When bab’Simon Ximba saw a tornado approaching, he leaned against his kitchen door in the corner of the veranda and began to pray. “God, if my time has come, then it has come.”
Alone and afraid, Ximba closed his eyes as fierce winds obliterated his house, leaving nothing standing but the wall holding the door to his toilet. “This was my dream home for my children. Even when I thought of death, I knew that I would leave my children with a home. This is the last place I wanted to spend before being buried,” he said.
Ximba is among the hundreds of people whose homes were destroyed and damaged when a tornado ripped through the small farming community of New Hanover just outside Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday 12 November. Two days later, it was reported that another tornado had formed in Bergville, in the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal.
In Mpolweni, the villages of Mvondlo, Thokoza and Lindokuhle have been affected by the tornado, which killed two people and left a trail of destruction in its wake. A man was killed in Mpolweni and a woman died in Thokoza. uMshwathi Local Municipality manager Nhlanhla Mabaso said at least 18 people had been injured.
There have been 17 tornadoes recorded in recent history. The South African Weather Service said that over the past 10 years, there have been 16 tornadoes.
Ximba, who is 75, built his modern, four-bedroom home in 1996. Having worked as a driver for paint company Plascon for many years, he borrowed about R75 000 from his provident fund to build his family a home.
Ximba said there was nothing odd about the weather that day of the tornado. It had been sunny. “I was shocked to see everything disappear in such a short span of time. My dream of many years was damaged. I had about 36 chickens and all of them are dead. I have eight cows and I can only account for four.
“What pains me the most is that I just bought a washing machine on credit and this was the second month that I was paying for it. All the toilets are gone, only the door leading to the toilet is still standing. The fridges, the wardrobes, my precious wooden clock … everything is gone.
“I haven’t eaten today. I need to go to my neighbours to find food because the hall where there is aid is too far from me … God made a mistake by coinciding this disaster with Christmas. I don’t know where the grandchildren will go, because this is where we gather every December.”
Ximba recalls a similar incident in 1979. “The damage was not as bad as this, we are living in the end of times. All that is written in the Bible is happening.”
‘Full of lies’
He has little hope of the governing party helping him rebuild. “You see, the ANC, it’s an old organisation and they are full of lies. [Former president Jacob] Zuma is my uncle and he is full of lies. I am a member of the ANC and it is a party full of empty promises.”
The tornado that swept through Mvondlo, Thokoza and Lindokuhle damaged or destroyed more than 200 homes, leaving residents homeless.
At Nomasonto Thabethe’s home in Lindokuhle, men are busy fixing a fence. Although it is raining and overcast, Thabethe’s daughter, Nomusa, who is eight months pregnant, is doing laundry. She is trying to wash the mud from damaged blankets, clothes and other household items.
“I was home from a piece job when, at around 3pm, I saw a dark cloud coming from Maqonqo. It looked like dust and there was a wild wind that accompanied it. I went outside and started to take the clothes off the washing line and told the children to pour out the water they had used to bathe in.”
Thabethe, 50, said she could sense the danger lurking in the air. “I could see the cloud coming towards me and, all of a sudden, it all gathered on my roof and I heard noises that sounded like people fighting on top of the roof. The corrugated iron ripped off the roof and was flying in all directions like pieces of paper.”
Thabethe hid under her bed with one of her grandchildren. She wasn’t sure where her daughter and other grandchild were. “I asked God what had we done to deserve this?”
After the tornado passed, Thabethe got up and peeped out her window. She saw that she was not the only one whose house had been damaged. “My daughter came to check if we were okay. I was too scared to go and check on them because it was raining heavily. It was thundering and windy.”
When the rain eventually subsided, Thabethe was shocked at the devastation the tornado had caused. “The electricity meter box flew away and that means we don’t have electricity. We have lost everything.”
Thabethe went to the local community hall the following day, where affected residents were receiving aid. “We were told to register, but we told them that we lost everything and they kept on insisting that we write down our information on a piece of paper. They were making fools of us. I knew that I was not going to get help there.”
Thabethe says her house was the first to be struck and yet she has received no assistance.
“I see the bakkies passing my house with food, taking it to the hall. I don’t understand why they say we should leave our homes and seek shelter at the hall when amaphara [whoonga/nyaope boys] will steal the little that we have left.”
Thabethe has lost hope in the government.
“We voted because we thought there would be meaningful change in our lives. I am not sure whether I have bad luck or something. I don’t want to fill out lists, they can see that my house has been damaged. I have not received any help, there is just no way forward here.”
Not the first time
This is not the first time the community has been affected by a tornado. Thabethe says a tornado ripped through the area in in 2015, but the damage was not as severe.
Pointing at her wet sofas, she said, “The entire dining room is gone. We sleep on wet sponges. I don’t have a husband to help me. With Christmas around the corner, only God will provide.”
A short drive from Thabethe, Dorris Dladla, 74, and her partner Protas Mkhize, 61, sit in their tent, which the government has provided.
Dladla was dressed up and ready for church when disaster struck. “I was sitting and the wall collapsed on me and I screamed, “Baba kaMthembeni, ngisize’ and the wall collapsed on him as well.”
Mkhize, who was rolling a marijuana joint when New Frame visited, said he had been confused about what was happening. “If I was drunk, I would have died. I thank God because I wouldn’t have made it out alive.”
Dladla interjected, saying that she would have been blamed had Mkhize died. “A man died last year when a wall collapsed on him and his family blamed the wife. They would have said the same thing about me, but I would never kill my husband.”
‘A snake from God’
Mkhize said there was more to the tornado, he believes it was the wrath of God. “It was a snake from God. It has not rained for months. We have been suffering with a drought and then all of a sudden we have a tornado.”
Dladla experienced chest pains on the afternoon of the tornado. “Eventually, when the ambulance arrived, they took us to Northdale Hospital and they did X-rays. I got stitches at the back of my ear where the corrugated iron cut me when it fell on top of me.”
Luckily, said Dladla, her children and grandchildren were not at home when the incident happened. “This has never happened here. It was the first time in the five years that we have lived here that something like that happened.”
The couple lost everything. A loaf of bread, a small packet of maize meal and soup are all the family has in their small tent, which is just big enough for four people when empty. Their clothes are bundled up in packets beside a two-plate stove, which they salvaged from their home.
Dladla and Mkhize spend most of their time inside their makeshift home, keeping an eye on their belongings. “I can’t leave the blankets outside, amaphara will steal them. This disaster has been a great opportunity for them to steal from us. When we sleep, we need to sleep with an axe,” said Mkhize.
Amatoria Msomi, 53, has just returned from fetching a loaf of bread and a bowl of soup from the Shoprite truck on the main road. The mother of five works at a nearby farm in Dalton. She was at work when she received the phone call telling her that her house, her mother’s house and her daughter’s house had all collapsed.
“They also told me that my eldest daughter, Sthembile, had been pinned under a wardrobe. I lost my mind.”
Msomi said her daughter was pregnant, but that the doctor said the baby had been hurt and had to terminate the pregnancy. “She was also cut on the foot by corrugated iron. The wardrobe fell on her stomach and that is what hurt the baby. I did not even know that she was pregnant.”
Christmas is going to be a difficult time for Msomi. “We have nothing to come home to in December. We have lost everything. I have never seen anything like this in my entire life. God must be really angry with us. He is not happy.”
‘Just a myth’
Mkhioheni Goge, 67, stands inside his beautifully built green house with no roof. He is looking out of the window.
“It was around 3.30pm when I was getting ready to take a bath. There was a loud thunderstorm and it started raining heavily with strong winds. The clouds gathered.”
Goge was sure that the dark cloud would pass, as it usually did. “Suddenly the kitchen door opened and I pushed it back and it pushed me back. I asked myself what was going on.”
It continued to rain heavily for about half an hour, said Goge.
“People are saying that the tornado was a snake that went to Albert Falls looking for a place to stay and when it got there, there was another snake. They fought and the one that lost caused all of this damage. To be honest, I do not believe it. It is just a myth.”
Goge, too, said he believed the tornado was an act of God.