Ramaphosa promises aid to families devastated by KwaZulu-Natal floods

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday promised those affected by heavy rains and flooding that have left 253 people dead in KwaZulu-Natal that the government would provide them with food, shelter, water and clothing, as well as help to cover the cost of funerals for the deceased.

Ramaphosa’s tour of devastated areas, in the company of KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala, first took him to Clermont, where he met the grief-stricken Sokhela family, whose four children were killed after a Methodist church building collapsed onto their house.

“The disaster that has befallen you is worse than anything we have seen before,” Ramaphosa said to the family in isiZulu, promising food, shelter, water, clothes and other basic items they may require.

“Previously, we have seen this kind of thing happen in countries like Mozambique or Zimbabwe, but now it has also happened to us. The national and provincial governments will work together to see how we can help,” the president said.

Zikalala said a state of disaster had been declared in the province.

“We are concerned that there are many people who have been reported still missing, we are working with those communities who have reported and we will ensure that we provide all necessary support that we are able to,” the premier said.

Shortly after Ramaphosa stopped in ward 92 to visit the Gwala family whose 69-year-old grandmother, Mable Gwala, was swept away by a raging river on Monday night. He went on to Lindelani, Ntuzuma, eMawoti and uMzinyathi, promising government help to scores of families left distraught after the floods swept through their homes.

“We are looking at all the damage caused by the rain that’s heavier than any other rainfall we’ve ever seen before,” the president told a crowd gathered at Bhekisisa High School in Ntuzuma.

“We have heard that here there are around 60 people who have been placed at this school for a while and need food, clothing and water and all of that has to be sorted out by our local government, provincial government and national government.”

The department of education said all schools affected by the floods would be temporarily closed until Tuesday, saying the safety of students and teachers remained its top priority. In a statement, the department urged parents to cooperate with school authorities.

The South Africa Weather Service said more rainfall was anticipated in the province from Friday until Saturday.

“Because the ground is so wet, anything that comes out of these clouds has the potential of taking back any amount of water the disaster management, the government and the police are busy with at the moment,” weather forecaster Venetia Phakula told the Mail & Guardian.

In 2019, flooding in KZN — which also occurred during Easter — claimed the lives of 85 people. Zikalala, who was acting premier at the time,  said it was the first time the province had lost so many lives to extreme weather.

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