A severe storm that ripped through several villages in the Eastern Cape left hundreds of families stranded and devastated, with their homes wrecked and without electricity.
The heavy winds and torrential rains killed livestock and partially wrecked cars, schools and other structures.
With electrical poles uprooted in Mthatha and many parts of the OR Tambo District Municipality, more than 30 villages remained in the dark for a week. And, without electricity, people had to cook in three-legged pots on open fires outside.
Mzoxolo Zintlanga, 76, from Ngwevana village at Gxididi near Mthatha said his house collapsed, the violent storm shredding the roof sheeting, window and door frames. His rondavel and two-room flat made out of mud bricks could not weather the storm.
He said his family were outside when the wind started. “I ran with my wife and grandchildren into the house when that thing chased us. We were afraid of the striking lightning. Initially, I thought it was isichotho (hail storm) and then it changed to something like uvukuza (spinning dust) that moved at a very high speed,” Zintlanga said.
A number of residents said they saw “a huge dark cloud” gathering speed in a westerly direction over Ngcobo town and, within a few minutes, heavy winds blew away walls, roofs, doors and windows of people’s houses.
At Ngcengane Clinic, in Lusaka Village, rainwater flooded the waiting and consulting rooms. Community health workers battled to save files, medicines, books and medical records submerged in a pool of water.
Nombasa Nomthetho Mgolombane, 53, who lives next door to the clinic, said equipment, electricity boxes, cables, furniture and water tanks were damaged.
“It is so sad to see our health facility shattered in this way. Only the nurse’s home is still in good shape. This clinic is meant to service 29 villages. Where are the elderly people going to get their treatment now?” asked Mgolombane. “They have no choice but to travel long distances, which is too risky for the pensioners. ”
Bad situation made worse
The storm has heaped pressure on the already fragile province, which is battling a surge of Covid-19 infections and deaths. An alliance of social movements, trade unions and community organisations, C19 People’s Coalition, has demanded that the Eastern Cape government “take immediate action” in order to relieve storm-affected communities and farmers within the OR Tambo Municipality.
“The storm killed at least three people, injured 50 others and damaged and destroyed livestock, crops, houses, and equipment in more than 20 villages. Hailstones the size of tennis balls fell and hundreds of dead cows, sheep and goats spread across the ground of the area,” read part of the alliance’s statement.
Zoyisile Nyewe, 58, a principal at Gxididi Primary School in Ngwevana Village, said the roof of three classrooms vanished with the storm.
“The situation doesn’t look good at all. It inconveniences the teachers and learners. The kids are writing their exams and Grade R and Grade 2 learners have no classes and had to be moved in order to join other classes. We alternate them and try to make adjustments but this exercise is very difficult to execute during this period of Covid-19 crisis. Our main challenge is to find a space to store the records such as books, desks, cupboards,” said Nyewe.
Another three primary schools were affected: Ncise, Rosedale and Jumba. Ngwayibanjwa High School was wrecked and flooded.
Dead animals, shattered dreams
Nozinzile Flara, 67, who, who lives with 14 of her family, said the storm has complicated her life and plans.
“My livestock died during the storm. I lost five sheep and seven chickens in a space of a few days. I had no choice but to allow the dogs to eat them. I was traumatised and could not accept the pain of looking in the kraal. Every morning I saw death. Now we are forced to cook outside because we have no electricity.”
Kholeka Mapale, 65, who runs a chicken business, iKamva leNcise Cooperative at Link Location in Mthatha, expressed disappointment.
“This situation happened at the time when we were beginning to see progress. We anticipated that in December the business would flourish. Surprisingly, things changed. On that particular day, I saw water tanks, zinc, piggery and the gate fly towards my house. Shortly after, I saw water entering the structure where I kept the chicken. Its level was rising so fast, then the chicks could not move any more, instead, they got stuck into a corner. While trying to fix that, then the electricity went off. The small ones could not move. They suffocated and died one by one,” Mapale said.
Ncebakazi Tose, 39, who lives with 12 family members, said when she came home from work she noticed that the weather was strange.
“The wind was spinning. While trying to observe, the windows in my bedroom opened up. Immediately the whole house was shaking and then it fell. We had to run to hide indoors. When I tried to escape, the bricks fell again on my leg. Limping and bleeding, I ran for safety with no clear vision or destination. I ended up at the church next on the other side of the fence. On arrival there, the wall was moving slowly then the building collapsed,” she said.
At Mzodumo Junior Primary School, more than 300 women, with 25-litre containers, waited in line in front of empty classrooms. They waited for someone who promised them paraffin. They later learned that they had been lied to.
Nofundile Zozo, 70, said they are forced to cook outside using debris because there are no better options. “We break cardboards, papers and use plastics to make fire. Out of desperation, we even go to an extent of snatching the broken pieces from the houses that are damaged as a result of the storm. This is embarrassing but a reality,” she said.