President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)
The flooding in KwaZulu-Natal that has claimed over 400 lives, destroyed billions of rands worth of roads, infrastructure and housing and displaced more than 40 000 people led to President Cyril Ramaphosa declaring a national state of disaster on Monday night.
“With the heavy rains and flooding in the Eastern Cape and indications from the South African Weather Service that the North West and Free State may also be affected by bad weather, it is clear that there are other areas of the country that need emergency intervention.
“Cabinet therefore met in a special session [on Sunday night] and decided to declare a national state of disaster,” the president said.
He said that declaring the flooding in KwaZulu-Natal a provincial disaster last week was inadequate to deal with the “scale of the emergency and the required reconstruction and rehabilitation measures and responses”.
The province holds a key position in the country given its port, he said.
“The significance of the Port of Durban and related infrastructure for the effective operation of the country’s economy means that this disaster has implications far beyond the province of KwaZulu-Natal.”
The national state of disaster would be gazetted by the minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs this week.
Ramaphosa said progress has been made in restoring operations at the port, opening alternative routes for trucks to access the port terminals and cleaning of debris in the harbour.
He said government will be responding to the disaster in three phases:
First, it will focus on immediate humanitarian relief to ensure that all affected persons are safe and that their basic needs are met.
Second, it will focus on stabilisation and recovery which will encompass rehousing people who have lost homes.
Finally, government will focus on reconstruction and rebuilding.
As a result of the floods critical infrastructure had been damaged with water systems and electricity impacted.
During his media briefing on Sunday, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala said it was anticipated that bulk water supplies in the province would be fully restored by 24 April. “The main challenge with water is the bulk supply pipelines that are damaged,” he said.
As for electricity disruptions, Zikalala said most areas that experienced such had been in the eThekwini metro, and the majority had been repaired. The challenge lay in individual households and new cases being reported.
“The needs identified are enormous. Billions will be required to rebuild the province from this catastrophe,” Zikalala said.
The department of basic education on Monday said 57 children lost their lives in the floods while five others were still missing.
It further said that 630 schools had been affected by the floods, 124 of them having suffered extensive damage, while 101 were inaccessible.
Education Minister Angie Motshekga will visit some of the affected schools on Tuesday.
The South African National Defence Force also put out a statement on Monday saying it would be deploying 10 000 troops to KwaZulu-Natal as part of disaster relief efforts.
Support would include the erecting of field accommodation, providing fresh water through its water purification systems, and deploying electricians for restoring power and plumbers for restoring the water supplies in affected areas.
Ramaphosa said the department of human settlements had the immediate task of housing those who were displaced. Preparations are underway to provide temporary residential units and it is expected that construction of these should begin by the end of the week.
Ramaphosa said R1-billion is immediately available from the national treasury as part of the government’s efforts with the Solidarity Fund to implement support measures.
“There can be no room for corruption or mismanagement of these funds,” Ramaphosa said.
He said that learning from the experience of the Covid-19 pandemic (where relief funds were looted) the government was drawing together various stakeholders — which include the auditor general, business bodies, the religious sector, labour, community-based organisations as well as professional bodies such as engineers and accountants — to ensure oversight of all funds disbursed to respond to the disaster.
Anathi Madubela is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the M&G.