/ 13 July 2023

Public protector probes 2022 KZN flood relief efforts

Distress: A bridge (above) north of Durban was one of many destroyed by the 2022 floods. Infrastructure to roads alone is estimated at R5.6-billion. (Marco Longari/AFP)

Acting public protector Kholeka Gcaleka is investigating allegations that the KwaZulu-Natal and national governments have failed to provide adequate assistance to victims of the devastating floods of April 2022.

The floods wreaked havoc across most parts of the province, claiming the lives of more than 400 people. Many are still missing, presumed dead. Thousands of families lost their homes and personal belongings.

Most of the families affected were moved from townships into about 11 large blocks of rental flats in or near the city centre, which were converted into emergency housing.

In April 2023, GroundUp reported on the living conditions at the emergency housing units. Families living there accused the provincial government and eThekwini municipality of failing to keep promises made after the disaster. 

They said they had been promised food vouchers and help finding places in schools and paying fees.

In June, auditor general Tsakani Maluleke said that KwaZulu-Natal had only spent R251 million of the R5.8 billion allocated for flood relief. 

Recently, eThekwini municipality had to send back more than R300 million to the treasury after it failed to spend its conditional grants within the stipulated time.

After these reports, community activist Elias Muller said he asked Gcaleka’s office to investigate whether the provincial and national governments had failed to help flood victims, particularly with the provision of transport for learners who now live far from their schools.

He also asked the acting public protector to investigate whether the decision to stop food vouchers to families in emergency accommodation — a decision he considers “irrational” — was improper and irregular.

“The government seems to be failing to take the necessary measures or steps to ensure that the dignity and privacy of the KZN flood victims is urgently restored. Government seems not to be prioritising these victims,” said Muller.

Ndili Msoki, acting spokesperson for the public protector, confirmed that the matter had been assigned to a senior investigator.

Flood victims visited in April said the situation had not changed or had worsened.

At Point Road emergency housing, residents said the provincial human settlements department had denied access to visitors.

Resident and group representative Nomvula Makhosi said some of the residents had left their children in the care of relatives and close friends while they were crammed into community halls. She said many of those children had not been allowed to move into the emergency housing when their parents were relocated.

“We tried to fight but we failed. Some of our children had to remain with family members. Now we are told that they are not even allowed to sleep over,” said Makhosi.

They had heard government officials on the radio saying that all was well “but that is not true”.

Makhosi said the KZN department of education had told families to deregister learners from schools in Umlazi and send them to those closer to the emergency housing. But many were in grades 11 and 12 and moving them would affect their progress.

“The department promised us scholar transport but now they are backtracking,” she said.

In April, education spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi said that the department could not accommodate all the affected learners in the past financial year  but that efforts were underway to do so in this financial year. However, the department has since slashed its scholar transport budget from R459 million to about R266 million.

Mahlambi said the budget cut would affect those who were still waiting to benefit from scholar transport.

KZN human settlements spokesperson Mbulelo Baloyi said the department was working with eThekwini Municipality and the Housing Development Agency to revise and review the rules after complaints by residents of the emergency housing units.

This story was first published by GroundUp.