‘Forgotten town’ oThongathi reeling from ‘three strikes out’

‘Previously lauded for housing and providing a safe haven for freedom stalwarts – all it is representative of now. It is a forgotten town’. | Tumi Pakkies/ Independent Newspapers

‘Previously lauded for housing and providing a safe haven for freedom stalwarts – all it is representative of now. It is a forgotten town’. | Tumi Pakkies/ Independent Newspapers

Published Jun 9, 2024


Durban — “Three strikes and you’re out”, was the sinking feeling oThongathi’s community leaders and residents faced after a tornado struck the area, north of Durban, on Monday.

It has been estimated that 7 000 households were without roofs, affecting 17 000 people.

Nature’s wrath wrecked houses, buildings, schools, infrastructure, and claimed the lives of 12, leaving the community concerned about how quickly mopping-up and restoration operations would last.

The eThekwini Municipality, various government departments, aid organisations like Gift of the Givers, community and religious groups have all rallied to lend a hand.

Tongaat Civic Association’s Don Perumall said they wondered if life would ever be the same again for some residents as they would not be able to afford the costs to restore their homes and lives to what it was before the tornado, by themselves.

“I know this town well. There are lots of pensioner-run homes. They are not well-off people. Even working class people are concerned about fixing their homes.”

Perumall said the hardest hit areas were Magwaveni, Sandfields, Desainagar, Sea Tides, Jan Ross and La Mercy.

While food, blankets and other supplies have been donated thus far, Perumall said the need for building material was great.

Jeeva Pillay, a long-time community leader, said many people were left with only the clothes on their back, and some did not have home insurance policies.

“How will they cope?”

Pillay said some families were still recovering from fixing their homes after the floods in recent years.

Another Tongaat community leader, Dennis Kullen, said his mother-in-law’s home in Desainagar was badly damaged and she had no insurance cover for her nearly 60-year-old freehold 4-bedroom house with 180 degree sea-views.

“They built that home with sweat and tears. The roof has been destroyed, together with all the furniture and some of the building’s walls have collapsed. They are hoping for assistance, possibly from a government relief fund.”

Kullen said the 82-year-old woman was lucky to be alive, as a family member pulled her to safety after the tornado struck.

He said the old woman and other family members continued to live in the broken down house as they feared looters would steal their remaining possessions.

Attorney and local community activist Tashya Giyapersad recounted the misfortune the area suffered in recent years, she said: “Three strikes you out… Riots, floods and tornadoes!”

Giyapersad was sceptical about how quickly reparations by authorities would be affected considering they had to wait nearly a year for water after the April 2022 floods.

“Tongaat is a forgotten town. Previously lauded for housing and providing a safe haven for freedom stalwarts – all it is representative of now. It is a forgotten town,” she said.

Mdu Nkosi, an IFP exco member in the eThekwini Municipality said it was the “biggest disaster I’ve seen in all my years in office.”

Nkosi believed the relief action was not moving fast enough because the municipality’s efforts were not planned and properly co-ordinated.

“We need to have a sizeable budget in eThekwini for disasters so that we can act decisively in situations like this. We don’t have to wait for the national government and other countries to assist us. Even the province should have a budget because climate change is a big factor these days.

“What if we have more bad weather here?”

Nkosi recommended that in situations such as these Section 36 of the supply chain management processes could be applied, where no tenders are needed to award work contracts.

“People are without roofs over their heads,” he said.

The DA’s exco member, Yogis Govender, said new solutions like erecting “tin-towns” were needed in the new week because of the demand for shelter. Govender was opposed to transit camps.

She said some people who were left homeless have been taken in by other family members and was aware of instances where people lived 10 in a room.

“The two local halls are overcrowded. Some schools have 400 people in a classroom. Toilets and showers are needed.

“The situation is becoming untenable.”

Govender noticed that various organisations were doing relief work but more co-ordination was required.

“Some areas are saturated with aid while others are getting nothing, not even a drop of water.”

She warned that people need to be careful who they handed donations to as there were some opportunists who were looking to benefit from the situation.

“There are many who are advertising banking details. People need to be wary.”

Gugu Sisilana, the municipality’s spokesperson, said the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government and themselves remain dedicated to providing assistance to displaced families and have distributed food parcels, blankets, building materials, and offered healthcare services.

“Our immediate priorities included clearing debris and fallen trees to enable our teams and organisations that provide humanitarian aid to deliver assistance and restore essential services. After preliminary assessments were conducted, we relocated affected families to temporary shelters,” said Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda, who visited parts of oThongathi this week.

"While water supply has been reinstated in most areas, we will continue to provide static tanks and water tankers to supplement the distribution. The electricity unit is working towards resolving electricity supply by next week,” he said.

Sunday Tribune