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South Africa in another state of disaster

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In what has been described as a humanitarian disaster that calls for a massive relief effort, the government has declared a State of National Disaster in response to the deadly floods in KwaZulu-Natal that resulted in the deaths of nearly 450 people while 48 were still missing, and about 40,000 displaced in KwaZulu-Natal.

Ridge Road in La Lucia, under the bridge to Armstrong Avenue. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/ African News Agency

IN WHAT has been described as a humanitarian disaster that calls for a massive relief effort, the government has declared a State of National Disaster in response to the deadly floods in KwaZulu-Natal that resulted in the deaths of nearly 450 people while 48 were still missing, and about 40,000 displaced in KwaZulu-Natal.

Addressing the nation on Monday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that with heavy rains and flooding in the Eastern Cape and indications from the South African Weather Service that the North West and Free State may also be affected by bad weather, it is clear that there are other areas of the country that need emergency intervention.

President Cyril Ramaphosa.

While Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma will gazette the declaration, Ramaphosa said Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana has indicated the availability of R1 billion to respond to the disaster.

“We will be responding to this disaster in three phases. First, we will focus on immediate humanitarian relief, ensuring that all affected persons are safe and that their basic needs are met. Second, we will focus on stabilisation and recovery, rehousing people who have lost homes and restoring provision of services. Third, we will focus on reconstruction and rebuilding. The primary responsibility to coordinate and manage the disaster is assigned to the national sphere of government, working closely together with provincial governments and municipalities,” he said.

Ramaphosa said a comprehensive assessment of the economic cost of these floods still has to be made, it was clear that it will run into billions of rand for the rebuilding of infrastructure and loss of production.

“It is going to take a massive effort, drawing on the resources and capabilities of the entire nation, to recover from this disaster. We will make financial resources available to meet this challenge. We are determined that there must be transparency and accountability as the projects are costed and implemented, as well as how resources are deployed from the beginning, not after the money is wasted or stolen.

“Learning from the experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are drawing together various stakeholders – including the Office of the Auditor-General, business, religious sector, labour, community-based organisations as well as professional bodies such as engineers and accountants – to ensure oversight of all funds disbursed to respond to this disaster. It will be critical, as we undertake this work, that all the resources we mobilise are used for their intended purposes and reach the intended recipients. There can be no room for corruption, mismanagement or fraud of any sort,” he said.

Meanwhile, Chapter Nine institutions including the Office of the Public Protector and South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) remain on high alert on how the KwaZulu-Natal government spends disaster relief funds in the wake of last week’s devastating floods.

A number the organisations are set to meet today to discuss their oversight role in the disbursement of funds following the devastating floods which claimed the lives of nearly 450 people, displacing thousands of residents.

Public protector’s spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe confirmed the meeting, saying: “The public protector chairs the Forum for Institutions Supporting Democracy, which consists of institutions established in terms of chapters 9, 10 and 13 of the Constitution. The aim of the meeting is to co-ordinate the activities of these institutions as they monitor the implementation of government relief efforts in the wake of the KZN floods disaster, and to ensure accountability for the public resources that will be spent in the process,” Segalwe said.

Late last week, the SAHRC said the government should ensure that every measure was taken to ensure that all resources dedicated to helping affected communities and people reached the intended parties, and was not lost to corruption or maladministration.

It added that it would monitor the provision of alternative housing, food, water, health care and other immediate concerns for the victims of the floods.

Since KZN was declared a disaster area, and therefore able to access emergency funds, there have been concerns that funds aimed at providing relief to affected communities across the province would be milked by those who are politically connected.

But KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala has sought to allay the fears, and has given assurances that all the resources allocated for flood relief and the recovery and rebuilding process will be utilised in line with fiscal rectitude, accountability, transparency and openness.

“We want to emphasise the fact that, having learnt the lessons of Covid-19, no amount of corruption, maladministration and fraud will be tolerated or associated with this province. We want to assure our communities that all the funds will be used prudently, and that no one will be allowed to feast on the suffering of our people in order to line their pockets. Work of quality and value for money will be done,” said Zikalala.

He added that the government had monitoring institutions – including the Office of the Auditor-General – that were in place to deal with any form of wrongdoing.

Once all the damage had been assessed, all contracts that were awarded would be pre-audited by the provincial treasury, which would assess all work that would be done.

“We will ensure transparency as we did when we awarded contracts during Covid-19, in that we publicised the list of beneficiaries who were receiving work from the government, so we will once again do so,” Zikalala said.

Political analyst Lukhona Mnguni said it was not surprising that many people had developed a mistrust of the government’s ability to deal with corruption.

“There is no doubt that we have reached a stage where we need to think more seriously and deeply about proactive accountability mechanisms and measures,” said Mnguni.

He added that the Covid-19 debacle, in which some government officials had wrongfully benefited from government contracts for the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), was still fresh in many people’s minds.

The mistrust of government officials was echoed by University of KwaZulu-Natal analyst Dr Lubna Nadvi, who said: “There are so many previous examples of public/private sector monies allocated to government departments for relief work, such as in the case of the PPE issue during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, where funds ended up in the pockets of corrupt officials instead of being used to purchase much-needed protective items for health workers.”

“Without there being monitoring and oversight from civil society and section 9 structures there is no accounting mechanism. One can only hope that the culture of corruption that has developed within the governing party and some government departments over the past several decades does not rear its ugly head again in this situation, where poor and vulnerable people have lost so much, including their loved ones.”

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