KZN regional Works Unit integral to provincial recovery

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The building and construction skills in the ranks of the South African National Defence Force’s Regional Works Unit, KwaZulu-Natal, was and is still being put to good use in putting the province back on its feet and operational in the wake of April’s devastating rain and floods.

Acknowledgement of the important contribution made by the 218-strong provincial Works Formation unit came from SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief, Joint Operations Division, Lieutenant General Siphiwe Sangweni.

Speaking after a fact-finding visit to the province, he noted “this disaster necessitated deployment of capabilities not usually deployed – the Works Formation artisans”.

“Based on an assessment of the situation on the ground in KwaZulu-Natal, it became clear the SANDF would have to tend to more than just the security situation, rescuing people and providing water. We would have to be ready to support rebuilding efforts, when they started,” Sangweni said, highlighting the significance of his decision to deploy a multi-disciplinary team for this specific Operation Chariot.

In the ranks of the provincial Works Formation unit, commanded by Colonel Marius van Wyk, are bricklayers, carpenters, electricians, painters, plasterers, plumbers, tilers and welders. Their specific skills, normally used in maintenance, improvement and renovation of military facilities are currently assisting in making buildings – mostly residential – habitable post the floods.

Included in the 48-strong deployment are driver/operators for excavators, graders, skid- steer loaders and tractor/loader/backhoes (TLBs).

Work done to date includes clearing and rehabilitating roads in Inanda, Mzinyathi, Kwandengezi, Mamdikazi and Ngcolosi;  clearing mud and rubble from houses buried in mudslides; clearing mud from public properties including Kwa-Ndengezi High School, Thornwood High School, Brettenwood High School and the Cutshwayo Roman Catholic Church.

KwaZulu-Natal Works Formation unit personnel also assisted in search for three missing Gumbi family members swept away when a bulk water pipe destroyed their home.  Another family to benefit from their presence were the Ntulis from Ngcolosi in a search for the remains of a family member yet to be recovered as well as recovering remains of three Mdlalose family members swept away during the floods.

Further evidence of the need for the specialist skills in the wider SANDF is next month’s deployment of a 15-strong team, in response to a Department of Hums Settlements call, to assist with rebuilding projects. Skills in this team, set to be on site in KwaZulu-Natal from July to September, include geotechnical and structural engineers alongside electricians, plumbers and welders.

Major Thembekile Makhiqi, officer in charge of the artisans, said 48 suitably qualified personnel are deployed for disaster relief efforts in KwaZulu-Natal. If needed, reinforcements from Regional Works Units in Western Cape, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Northern Cape will be called on.

“Every trade is represented in this deployment. When the need arises personnel are employable to execute a task. Because we are a smaller group, we can attend to complaints of families and schools, which allows us the personal touch in our response to the pain felt by people,” he told Major Mpho Mathebula.

“As the regional works unit, our ability to provide interim solutions access to homes and roads, gives me great pride. This deployment provided an opportunity to showcase our capabilities.”



Refocusing SANDF capabilities inward, Mathebula reports, due to increased requirements for support from various government departments, puts the spotlight on how advanced the national defence force is while showcasing the need for expansion and investment in specialised capabilities.