Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

Emergency services, disaster management, the ward councilor and his committee and other state support structures were missing in action at Glebelands hostel after #DurbanStorm. Many of the rotten, decades-old blocks are structurally unsound, yet there were no officials on site to whom the residents could turn for help. The Glebelands community, as usual, has been left to pick up the pieces themselves as best they could.

The eThekwini Municipality must take appropriate measures to promote a safe and healthy environment at the Glebelands Hostel [and] ensure that the community is allowed equitable access to the municipal services to which they are entitled. - Public Protector’s report on Glebelands Hostel: Remedial Action, 19 June 2017

“The superintendent’s phone is off.”

“The superintendent says he’s stuck on the road.”

“The superintendent said he’s been trying to contact Disaster Management but he can’t get through.”

“The superintendent’s manager’s phone is also off.”

“I couldn’t get through to anyone at eThekwini Emergency Services.”

These were a few of the responses Glebelands Hostel residents got yesterday during #DurbanStorm – arguably one of the biggest natural disasters to hit the city in more than a decade.

According to reports from residents, the roofs of Blocks 42, 51, 53, 57, C, D, E, M, O, Q, R, S, T, Y, Z and some of the newer units nearby, were gone, or severely damaged. Most of the windows in Block 51 were apparently smashed during the gale force winds. Small container shops – the income from which many hostel families are solely reliant - and corrugated iron garages were uprooted and blown away, while vehicles parked inside or near them were destroyed, flooded, and in some cases, washed away.

A resident reported a fridge “flew past” him. Most hostel dwellers cannot afford insurance, what is gone cannot easily be replaced.

The roof of the crèche at the community hall reportedly collapsed and children trapped inside had to be rescued by police. Almost all blocks reported severe flooding. Particularly those living in the upper floors have suffered huge losses as the deluge destroyed and damaged their belongings and important documents. They have had to leave their rooms and seek refuge with friends and relatives across the hostel, cramming 12-up or more in rooms meant to house four. They have no food, warm blankets or clothing. And Glebelands suffered overcrowding, disastrous maintenance, unhealthy living conditions, structural decay and abysmal plumbing for decades before #DurbanStorm.

Since Tuesday morning, the 71+ block complex has been without electricity. It is a no brainer to say darkness breeds danger and the hostel hitmen are known opportunists. Appeals have been made to the SAPS [South African Police Service] provincial commissioner, Umlazi cluster and station to increase patrols, but it remains to be seen if this will translate into action.

Large trees removed during the 2015 defoliation strategy (supposedly to rid the hostel of hiding places for criminals) have resulted in widespread erosion, washaways while access roads to many blocks have been blocked or left impassable. Residents are now forced to pick their way through the debris in almost total darkness on their way home from work.

At the nearby Malandeni informal settlement there were unconfirmed reports that a shack had collapsed killing the occupants - a woman and her two children.               

Meanwhile, across the city, it seemed emergency personnel were doing all they could for storm victims and the public rallied support. But in the parallel universe that is Glebelands – even on a good day – the complex remains all but untouched by the most basic amenities, and virtually free from repair, maintenance and integration into the post-94 era of our so-called constitutional democracy. To hell with the Public Protector’s report.

Emergency services, disaster management, hostel administration, the ward councilor and his committee and other state support structures were missing in action at Glebelands during #DurbanStorm. Many of the rotten, pre-Botha blocks are structurally unsound, yet there were no officials on site to whom the 450+ residents of each building could turn for help.    

Why was the superintendent ‘stuck on the road’ away from his post? Why was his line manager’s cellphone turned off during a crisis? And are we really to believe that the municipality’s hostel administration has to utilise a public call centre for the deployment of emergency personnel from one of its own departments? And what of all the other hostels scattered across South Durban? Were their officials also AWOL and incommunicado?

The Glebelands community has, as usual, been left to pick up the pieces themselves as best they can.

* VANESSA BURGER is an independent community activist for human rights & social justice based in Durban, South Africa. Email: [email protected]



* Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!

* Please send comments to [email=[email protected]]editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org[/email] or comment online at Pambazuka News.