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‘We watched our homes being swept away and sinking into the ground’

Residents of Lindelani informal settlement in Ntuzuma, Durban, watched helplessly as their homes were swept away and sunk into the ground during the devastating floods in KwaZulu-Natal.

Now scores of people from the settlement have moved into the Ntuzuma F community hall – with women, children and men all sharing the space.

The heavy rains left 40 000 people displaced, while 4 000 completely lost their homes.

Xoli Shazi is one of those who watched her home and that of her neighbours being swept away on April 11.

Shazi said one part of her shack was destroyed after a neighbour’s wall fell on to her home. What followed was flooding in her shack, with mud completely covering her furniture. She managed to rescue her children and they ran to her neighbour’s home. But minutes after arriving that house was also washed away. Again, they managed to escape.

She told City Press:Houses were being washed away left and right, leaving big holes where they once stood. We did not sleep, we stood outside in the rain until the morning.

“I was carrying my baby on my back and asked my other child to stand next to me, and I told them if we must die, we must all die together. I was convinced that it was the day we would die.”

It rained non-stop on that day and the rain made a loud, scary sound that still rings in her ears to date, Shazi said.

“In fact, when something falls I get scared and think about that scary day.”

The following day those whose homes were destroyed were moved to a school, where they received donations of clothes, blankets and food. They only moved into the hall on Monday as pupils were meant to go back to school on Tuesday following the Easter holidays.

Shazi said they were still in the dark about what would happen to them, but they know that they cannot stay at the hall forever.

They are not willing to go back to Lindelani.

“We are well taken care of here, I will not lie, but at the end of the day we hope to have our own homes because we do not even have privacy here as we live with many people.”

She also raised concerns about catching Covid-19 as there is no social distancing at the hall.

Sebeh Chilazi had been living at Lindelani since 2010. She told City Press that on that fateful day they went to sleep at around 9pm with their neighbours, who had sought shelter at their home after theirs was swept away. They heard a loud bang at around 10pm and woke up to see that where once stood a neighbour’s shack had turned into a river. The shack was gone.

Chiliza said at that point she could not sleep and was watching things unfold through her window. She noticed her washing line falling off and woke her husband up, and when they opened the door the front yard had turned into a big hole.

She asked her husband to go fetch their seven-year-old son so they could escape. In the meantime, she jumped into the big hole and was swept away by the floods, screaming for help.

She recalls:I had accepted that I was going to die. I do not know how I survived.

On his way to fetch their son, her husband fell and was trapped in the mud. Luckily their neighbour, who had run to their house earlier, managed to save the child and her husband managed to pull himself out of the mud.

Chiliza also managed to pull herself out of the mud and ran into one of her neighbours’ homes which had not been destroyed at the time.

“I was crying uncontrollably because I was thinking about my child, that he would not be able to survive that situation. I thought they had died.”

The women who spoke to City Press said while the living conditions at the hall were not ideal, they were happy that their children were back at school. The children whose schools are now far since their families’ displacement have been accommodated in schools nearby the hall.

When City Press visited the hall on Friday there were also home affairs trucks that were assisting people to regain their identity documents.

On Sunday, Premier Sihle Zikalala told the media that temporary accommodation for those who have lost their homes and are housed in places such as community halls will be set up by the end of this week. 

Zikalala said the  government was looking at setting up 4396 temporary accommodation units. He said 6278 people have been left homeless, 17 438 households were affected by the disaster, and 121 687 people were affected. There are also 7 490 people who are living in shelters in eThekwini, KwaDukuza and in Umzumbe.

–City Press

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