‘No return’ for those displaced by Durban floods

Floods are nothing new for shack dwellers, who have been forced to take refuge in community halls. With little hope of rebuilding, those affected are homeless for years at a time.

More than a thousand people have been displaced by the floods in Durban. Most have found shelter in tents, churches, community halls and in the homes of neighbours and relatives.

The eThekwini Municipality said an interim report on the damage caused by the torrential rains was tabled at a special executive committee meeting at the city’s disaster management centre on Thursday 26 April 2019.

The report estimates the costs, based on the assessments done by various municipal departments, at around R658 million. Almost half of that, R327 919 000, will go to the human settlements unit, reads the statement.

No right of return for the displaced

The people living in transit camps, RDP houses and shack settlements have no idea what will happen next. The land where the shacks of Nosipho Qumba, 28, and Ntombikayise Simanya, 29, stood in the Khokhobeni settlement is completely eroded. It will be impossible for them to rebuild.

“My story is difficult because it’s the third time this is happening,” said Qumba. This time, her shack was completely washed away. She and her three children escaped unharmed.

“I was woken by my neighbour, who told me to come out of my room. The rocks were falling outside. When I got outside, I saw that there was a mudslide. I told my partner I cannot die in a shack, I am leaving. Moments after I exited the house, a tree fell on my shack and at that point, I realised I can’t return because the soil will push the tree firmly into my house,” explained Qumba.

After managing to take her three children to neighbours who still had homes, she “watched shacks running down the water stream”.

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The unemployed mother of three does not know what will happen to them now that their home has been destroyed. Getting a house will be even more difficult for Qumba, who has never had an identity document.

Qumba lost her job because the company needed an ID number to register her as an employee and to get a bank account. “When I ask for help at Home Affairs, no one explained where I can get help with getting an ID,” said Qumba.

During the night of heavy rains and flooding, Simanya, Qumba’s neighbour, managed to grab a bag with important documents and a suitcase with clothes. The rest of her things got damaged. “I had a terrible toothache and was up most of the night. Ndeva isthonga sikhala apha ecang-kwendlu [I heard a loud sound of rocks behind my shack]. Soon thereafter, a lot of muddy water came rushing into my house.”

Simanya spent the whole night at an Engen garage without help. “I went to the police to ask for help. I was told that ‘disaster people’ are on their way.” After hours of waiting someone came and took Simanya and her children to the AFM church in Chatsworth.

Like Khokhobeni, the Quarry Road shack settlement was also completely flooded. Menzi Mthethwa, a member of the area committee, said that over 200 houses were washed away there. People placed car tyres behind their shacks to prevent them from falling over, but it was little help.

Years of waiting in community halls

“It’s is not the first time this is happening to us,” said Simanya. “It’s the second time for me to sleep in a hall. The first time I was placed at Bayview Hall. Even then, they had promised to help us, but they never did. We were left with no option but to rebuild our shacks. I stayed in the hall for two years. They moved us to a school, but when schools opened, they brought us back to the hall.”

“If it rains again, most of the people will die, because they are right at the bottom,” said Mam’ Sarah, a community activist, inside the Bayview Community Hall, Chatsworth, where over 50 people had been placed. In 2012, storms claimed the lives of two children in the settlement. “That family was moved in the area to this hall and stayed for four years. The following year, they placed them in a transit camp opposite the garage where the ground is not stable.”

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New Frame saw one of the transit units on the verge of collapse. Behind it, the ground where some of the shacks were built was completely eroded.

“We lost about six families because of fire about three years ago,” said Mam’ Sarah. “For me, this government is playing fools with us because all those bodies were buried by the government. So, the government knows that there is a housing problem.” 

Mpendulo Zulu, who was at the hall helping to take down details of those affected, confirmed Simanya’s and Mam’ Sarah’s claims of people staying in the hall for long periods. “Kids were born in that hall.” Zulu, who was also a victim of the flooding, said it is impractical to rebuild. He fears, like many, that there will be no alternative accommodation beyond the halls and churches, and that, like in 2012, people will stay there for years.

Poor drainage systems

For Zinhle Ngatana, 43, from Umlazi, the tragedy is very fresh. “Hhayibo! We are so traumatised,” said Ngatana. She, her husband and their three children ran to an office after their three-room house was flooded. Later, it collapsed. The local councillor took them to Kwa-Q Community Hall, where about 80 people had been placed.

Ngatana denounced the poor drainage system in Umlazi, saying the flood that came from the road was uncontrollable and caused mudslides. “As a result, a tree fell on my neighbour’s house, the trees we have complained about, which hang dangerously over our houses.

“It will never be possible, never, to build again. We cannot seem to get proper houses from government, and this is painful because the issue of floods is old,” said Ngatana.

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