“Please help us, we are stuck.” These were the last words uttered by Nomathamsanqa Nyangula, 56, and her husband Aaron Zondi, 67.
The couple from Amaoti (Amawoti) in Inanda, north of Durban, died on Monday 11 November when the roof and a wall of their home collapsed on them at around 9pm.
The husband and wife are among three people who died during the ongoing downpours in the province. Another person reportedly died after being struck by lightning in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
In May, thousands of shack dwellers were forced to seek refuge in community halls after torrential rain damaged their homes. The eThekwini Municipality estimated the costs of the damage at the time at around R658 million, based on assessments carried out by various municipal departments.
The couple’s daughters Zama Nyangula, 29, and Zilungile, 19, were asleep when the wall collapsed. Nyangula said she was woken when her sister called out to her. “She said the house had collapsed. I woke up quickly and found that the wall and the roof had collapsed. We tried to pull them [her parents] out from the rubble.
“We tried to help them, but the blocks were too heavy. We could hear them screaming for help, they said they were stuck. My sister and I could not pull them out and so I went to call people to come and help us.
“They tried to help, but they were too late. They were silent. They had died,” said Nyangula, starting to sob.
Nyangula shared the house with her sister and parents. “This means only me and my sister are left. Our other siblings do not live here.”
Nyangula, who is unemployed, said she does not blame God for the natural disaster that has left her, her sister and half-siblings orphaned. “I just think that their time had come. All I can say is that I am shocked by their deaths because I was not ready for them to die, especially like that. I do not blame God at all for what happened.”
On Saturday 16 November, neighbours, loved ones and friends gathered at the family’s home, where preparations for the burial were taking place.
Emotional and visibly distraught, mourners sang Nxa ebizwa amagama, engabe elami likhona? loosely meaning, when God calls out names, I wonder if mine will be there.
When the coffins were offloaded from the hearse, mourners accompanied the deceased couple to their home, where they would spend their last night before being buried at the Tafuleni Cemetery Park in Amaoti’s Tafuleni Section on Sunday 17 November.
Unhygienic living conditions
A few kilometres from the Nyangula home, six-month-old Athenkosi sleeps peacefully on a bed next to a wall that has fallen down after the heavy rainfall. His grandmother, Sizeni Maphenduka, 43, who lives in Tommy Property shack settlement in Mhlasini, is frustrated because this is not the first time that her wall has crumbled when it has rained.
“I was in the house when it started raining. The wall next to my bed collapsed at the bottom,” she said.
Maphenduka shares her four-room house with nine people.
“My bedroom has been damaged. The baby [Athenkosi] sleeps with me in the room. The TV, our clothes, wardrobe and other items have all been damaged. I am going to try and rebuild the mud house with blocks.”
On top of the rain damage, Maphenduka has to deal with the stench coming from the dumpsite a stone’s throw from her house. This means rats often visit her home. Among the rubbish are used nappies and sanitary towels, and spoiled food, making living conditions unhygienic for Maphenduka and her family.
“People dump everything here next to my bedroom wall. Sometimes people relieve themselves in plastics [plastic bags] and then throw them here in the morning, and I have to clean it up because of the smell. We just thank God that we didn’t get hurt.”
Maphenduka said she has told the local councillor countless times about her living conditions, but her cries have fallen on deaf ears. “I am tired of reporting things to the councillor. We have been reporting matters for years, with no help. As long as we are still breathing and still have life, we thank God for that.”
‘He does not help me’
Maphenduka’s neighbour, Linda Madikizela, 56, was taking a nap in his severely damaged shack when New Frame visited. A high-water mark at knee height on the door is a stark reminder of how much rain had fallen.
“I live here because of the easy access to transport. I wasn’t here when the rain fell. But when I got home, I saw how bad the damage was. I am just grateful that no one got hurt. We live in such appalling conditions and people are unemployed, it is really unfortunate that on top of everything that we are facing that the rain damaged everything we own.”
In the same shack settlement, Sifiso Mdletshe, 39, finds himself in a predicament. His brother, Fakazi Mdletshe, is the local councillor for Ward 53 and Mdletshe says his brother has not come to his aid.
“I was here when it rained. There was no way that I could leave my house. How can I live in these conditions? Even if you have a girlfriend, you can’t bring them here. It is embarrassing.”
Mdletshe, who was preparing a marijuana joint, said, “What annoys me is that I vote and my brother is the councillor in the area, but he does not help me. I am unemployed and to him I am just a monkey.”
No municipal help
This is not the first time that Mdletshe has been affected by floods. “The last time it rained, they gave us samp and beans. But where were we supposed to cook those samp and beans, when there is no electricity? We have to get firewood and make a fire outside because we do not have money to buy electricity.”
Residents often fight with Mdletshe because they expect his brother to assist them, “but he does nothing at all for the community.”
“Don’t you think we will get sick living in these conditions? We had to use our clothes to mop up the water on the floor. I don’t even want to bring people into my house because I know that they would laugh at me. I voted. I helped campaign for Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC. I put up posters in the area, but today I am a monkey to them. Today, I need to go out and beg for money because I do not work,” said Mdletshe.
In the Nhlambinkosi area in Ndwedwe, Philisiwe Dube’s mud house is still soaked in water days after the rains. “We lost our clothes, food and we had to throw some of our belongings away because they were damaged.”
Her daughter Londiwe, 20, and grandchildren Esihle, 5, and Enzokuhle, 3, depend on her for the next meal. “Sometimes I do washing at houses in the neighbourhood so that we can get money for food. We use the children’s R450 state grant to buy food. Everything is damaged, even the bed is broken.”
Dube, 46, said she informed the councillor about her family’s plight but he allegedly told her that he was too busy to assist. “I went to the municipality and officials called him and told him that we needed help and they got us a food voucher. They came to visit us during Operation Thuma Mina and they left blankets and gave us plastics to use to cover the roof.”
Dube said her family had not received any help from the municipality. The family received a shack from political party the African Freedom Revolution.
Although government had provided some help in the immediate aftermath of the rains and floods, KZN Cogta spokesperson Lennox Mabaso said that there were no significant updates to the situation.