It’s over 3 months since the storm that left a trail of destruction in KZN, but there has been no help from government for residents of Glebelands Hostel in Umlazi.
The ‘supercell’ thunderstorm that savaged KwaZulu-Natal for more than 12 hours in October last year, left 11 dead and a trail of destruction from which many are still trying to pick up the pieces. More than 3 months after KZN Premier, Willies Mchunu, declared Durban a disaster zone, Glebelands Hostel residents have been forced to repair their own roofs while local government bickered over bigger and better perks for municipal officials.
“Have you seen Blocks Y and Z?” the community leader asked, “The people put their money together and bought some boards and tarpaulins to cover the rooms that have no roofs. People cannot live like this. It is like living outside. Every time it rains they must shelter under plastic – inside their rooms!”
The October 10 storm trashed Glebelands, Malandeni and nearby informal settlements, yet well into the new year, progress has yet to be made to address residents’ untenable living conditions. Barely a roof remains intact across the 71-block complex.
Decades of neglect, rotten or missing piping, poor drainage systems, blocked drains, ineffective repairs and a maintenance deficit contributed significantly to the damage wrought by the storm. Electricity cabling and water pipes have been left exposed to the elements and the four-storey hostel buildings, their foundations undermined by floodwaters, remain in constant danger of collapse.
Malandeni informal settlement, just south of the hostel, is in an equally dire state. During the storm, a small watercourse that usually carries a dribble of murky water turned into a raging torrent and swept shacks, trees and people down the hill towards Jeena’s shopping complex. Shacks that survived the deluge now cling at strange angles to the newly formed riverbanks; the flood’s high-tide mark rimmed with plastic bags, cans and rotting rubbish. With no official aid in sight, the people of Malandeni cobbled together what they could from the retreating floodwaters to rebuild their shacks.
In the days that followed, the eThekwini Municipality’s woefully inadequate Disaster Management team failed to provide emergency shelter, food or blankets to those left homeless. Blocks bulged at the seams as friends and relatives were forced to cram into Glebelands’s already vastly overcrowded rooms to find shelter.
On 12 October, residents caught a rare glimpse of Glebelands ward 76 councilor, Robert Mzobe, who, in the company of a few ANC branch executive committee members and ANC Women’s League cheerleaders, was seen to walk a brisk few metres along the road below his office to ‘assess the damage.’
According to the community, the group did not enter or inspect any of the damaged blocks nor ask residents about their immediate needs in the wake of the catastrophe.
More than a week later, the community learned that the Disaster Management Team had apparently delegated its duties to Mzobe, to advise who needed help and who did not. It seems it slipped Mzobe’s mind to announce this to the broader community and most only learned of the intervention days after the councilor’s list had been completed.
“I do not know of anyone who has received help,” said one community leader, “you hear talking, that’s all.”
Another resident was straightforward: “We are not his supporters; we will not get help.”
Natural disasters can present useful vehicles of patronage to those clinging to political power.
Towards the end of October, the eThekwini Municipality’s Executive Committee (EXCO) tabled a report on the storm damage, estimating that infrastructure repairs would top half a billion rand. Of the 3112 households impacted, 2425 households were apparently in the south of Durban. Once approved, the report authorised the municipality’s Human Settlements Unit to prioritise the repair or reconstruction of damaged low-cost housing, community residential units (hostels) and informal settlements, subject to the release of funds by provincial departments.
However, in a statement issued only two days after the mega storm, KZN Premier, Willies Mchunu, announced that although the damage had not yet been quantified, the EXCO had declared it a provincial disaster to enable the provincial treasury to reprioritize budgets for emergency infrastructure repairs.
A month later, on 21 November, the eThekwini EXCO announced the approval of R308m of the estimated R576m needed to begin infrastructure repairs. The city’s R30m emergency fund had apparently already been drained by the previous year’s storm. To make up the approximately R268m shortfall, provincial leadership would approach national treasury for whatever funds “may be provided.” In the meantime, Deputy City Manager of Finance, Krish Kumar, was tasked with finding additional funding for emergency repair work. Other urgent storm damage-related projects that were not part of the capital budget but remained a high priority would be included in the next budget adjustment or be addressed by the 2018/19 budget.
EXCO emphasized that storm-related projects would follow the standard supply chain management procedure. Storm victims clearly do not justify the much-abused Section 36 emergency contract approval process.
Only months before it was revealed that the City had spent R20m on four Casspirs without following formal tender processes. Along with service delivery protests the carnage at Glebelands had been cited as justification for the purchase.
IFP EXCO member, Mdu Nkosi expressed frustration at the time: “People are protesting because of poor service delivery. Rather than buying Casspirs, spend the money on improving service delivery. If there is service delivery, they will not take to the streets.”
When queried by media about the apparent lack of urgency regarding storm damage repairs, eThekwini Executive Mayor, Zandile Gumede replied, “Officials have been dealing with these issues, they have been on the ground working.”
However, it remains unclear when, or even if, officials will be “on the ground working” to quantify Glebelands’ damage, or if the hundreds more rendered homeless at the hostel have been included among south Durban’s 2425 households reportedly impacted by the storm.
A few weeks ago a group of children were playing in a fallen tree next to Glebelands Block S. The tree, a 30+m giant, blew down in last year’s storm and smashed onto a freestanding electricity installation that controls the electrical supply to blocks in the immediate vicinity. No one has inspected the installation for damage.
And while the community waits for Gumede’s Casspir’s to roll into Glebelands and residents pool scarce funds to rig sheeting over their missing roofs while trying to protect their kids from exploding infrastructure, in a stunning display of callous disregard for our country’s crippled economy, SALGA recently lobbied for – and won – bigger and better perks for local government officials, including free housing for city mayors.