Nelson Mandela Foundation

KwaZulu-Natal floods, April 2022 (6) Nelson Mandela Foundation

For the Foundation, the month of April has been dominated by the most catastrophic flooding in almost three decades, which ravaged parts of KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and North West provinces. More than 400 people died, tens of thousands were left homeless and the damage to infrastructure has been huge. Worst hit was KwaZulu-Natal. What saddens me most is that this unbelievable blow comes when that province has not fully recovered from the damage to many communities and to infrastructure during the wave of public violence last July. This seemed like one blow too many.

As in July last year, we immediately mobilised our own emergency relief capacity, engaged with institutional partners, and we got on the ground as quickly as we could.On our visits to affected communities we have been overwhelmed by the devastation, the resilience of people with little to almost nothing (or nothing at all), and by the gratitude of those we’ve been able to lend a helping hand to. Their voices still echo in my mind. “Ewu, siyabonga bandla, ngicela bandla ukukupha i-hug.” (Thank you very much. May I please give you a hug to thank you.) “Inkosi inibusise, bengingazi nokuthi ngizothatha ini ngiyihlanganise nani ukuze izingane zidle.” (May God bless you. I didn't know what to put together just to feed my children.) “Ngiphume ngingaphethe lutho, ngiphelele njengoba ningibona.” (I couldn’t get a chance to grab anything; I left my home with nothing else; I am all that you see). “Angazi nokuthi ngiqalephi …” (I don't even know where to start in thanking you ...)

The immediate needs, of course, are food, water, mental health support, and shelter. In the work we’ve been doing, this has been the focus. It has been heart-warming to see how civil society has joined hands with communities, the state and the private sector to meet the multiple challenges together. In the days I spent on the ground it was good to work shoulder to shoulder with Old Mutual Foundation, Videovision, IT Labs, the Imbumba, Collen Mashawana, Kaizer Motaung Junior, and LaMsibi Foundations, the Nelson Mandela Community Youth Centre in Chatsworth, Habitat for Humanity, the International Federation of the Red Cross, the Centre for Mental Wellness and Leadership, the Department of Social Development and traditional authorities, to mention but a few. A visit to the Search and Rescue team left one with hope. To see many volunteers dropping off supplies to the team of law enforcement officers, airforce pilots and military officials left us with hope that these teams will continue to drop off supplies to many communities which are inaccessible due to damaged roads, and perhaps help some to find closure. It will take all these and more change agents to rebuild communities which have been shattered, repair the damage done by landslides which washed away roads, houses and bridges, and most importantly, reignite the hearts and souls of the families who have lost loved ones.

Work such as this is just the beginning! Our society has to find ways of addressing the underlying systemic dimensions which determine vulnerability. We must move beyond emergency food relief to sustainable food production and distribution. We must also prioritise both understanding and responding appropriately to climate change.

Mandela Day 2022, which we launch in May, will focus intently on the intersections between food insecurity and climate change. For too long we have closed our eyes to the impact of the latter in southern Africa. It is now beyond question that our region is experiencing the consequences of global warming. And for too long we have relied on a food production and distribution model which ill-equips us to rise to the challenge. Lines of enquiry like these, critical questions like these, will be addressed in the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture later in the year.