A woman in a drenched raincoat walks past the Quarry road informal settlement outside Durban. A woman in a drenched raincoat walks past the Quarry road informal settlement outside Durban.   (AFP or licensors)

South Africa’s floods: Neighbours have been helping neighbours.

South Africa’s Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Mariannhill, Neil Augustine Frank, O.M.I., has described the recent floods in South Africa as “sad and depressing.”

Paul Samasumo – Vatican City.

South Africans are still coming to terms with last week’s devastating floods. Amidst the bleak news from the flooding, the Bishop has also spoken of heartening stories of neighbours reaching out to help neighbours.

Over 4000 homes destroyed

It has stopped raining in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal. People in the province are beginning to process what happened to them after a week of relentless rains that destroyed more than 4 000 homes leaving thousands of families homeless. The death toll stands at 448.

A bleak Easter 

For many residents of this coastal region, it was a bleak Easter.

“Attendance was very poor because many people were cut off. People couldn’t reach places of worship. In Mariannhill Diocese, people couldn’t reach the Cathedral,” said Diocese of Mariannhill Diocese Coadjutor Bishop Neil Augustine Frank.

He added, “Many people have lost their lives. Some families are desperately mourning, having seen their loved ones washed away by the floods. I have not seen bodies recovered, but some people are still missing. It is a very sad, depressing situation. Homes have been swept away or practically destroyed in the floods. There have been landslides,” Bishop Frank said.

Waiting to bury loved ones

The People in the Mariannhil Diocese are waiting for the waterlogged cemeteries to give them a chance to bury the dead, said Bishop Frank.

“One of the greatest needs now is the burial of loved ones,” said Bishop Frank. “The burials can’t happen right away because the land is still soaked with water. We have to wait a while. Many people have lost everything, and as a Diocese, we have to find funds to help people supplement what they have and what they might receive from the government for proper burials,” he said.

Affordable, stable housing

On Monday evening, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster. The floods, in a way, bring to light continued widespread inequality in South Africa, especially in the housing sector. Most deaths and destruction happened in informal settlements where people live in shacks due to a lack of affordable, stable housing. Many people just can’t afford stable housing.

Some people may not have lost homes, but their houses have become uninhabitable, said Bishop Frank.

Neighbours helping neighbours

“Some homes may still be standing, but these houses’ foundations have been compromised. The people have to leave them. They may still have some possessions, but since they are displaced, there is a need for mattresses, clothing, and in many places also for food. Fortunately, neighbours are taking care of neighbours, and that is what we preach in Church. To see this preaching happening in reality, to see it now, is encouraging. It is a sign of a Church that is working well. Various families are also responding. In some places, the municipal government structures are working. In some municipalities, these structures are not working as well as they should,” explained the Co-adjutor Bishop.

“Caritas South Africa has given us some funds for us to respond as a Diocese. We are supplementing. We cannot do everything. We have to see ourselves as working with others. Other NGOs and the government are doing great work here,” said Bishop Frank.

South Africa needs a new resurrection

As communities now turn to bury the dead and the arduous work of cleaning up and rebuilding, Bishop Frank hopes that some lessons will have been learned from the tragic floods.

“We cannot go back to building houses on sand – I say this literally and metaphorically. We thought that our resurrection was in 1994, but we have been disappointed. We must start again,” said the Mariannhill Co-adjutor Bishop as he referenced the end of the apartheid government in 1994. Many had hoped that the new democratic government of South Africa would usher in a period of economic emancipation for the country’s poor.

21 April 2022, 11:18