Op Chariot in KZN drawing to a close

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Six months ago, large parts of KwaZulu-Natal were hit by torrential rain resulting in widespread – and damaging – flooding. As has become common for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration, the speed dial number of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) was top of the list.

The “employment” of, according to SANDF Directorate: Corporate Communication (DCC) and the Joint Operations Division, up to 10 000 soldiers for flood relief and humanitarian assistance commenced late in April and will end this month (September) on an as yet unknown date. The mid-September shutdown was made public by Major General Sandile Hlongwa, General Officer Commanding (GOC), Joint Operations Headquarters during a July visit to the worst-hit areas of the province.

This deployment, as always under the Operation Chariot banner to provide assistance to South Africans, saw engineers, infantrymen and women alongside Works Formation artisans doing the physical hard yards while SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) professionals in various disciplines contributed to bettering health conditions and minimising the spread of contagious diseases, such as cholera. The SA Air Force (SAAF) provided much-appreciated logistic support in the form of helicopters and light transport aircraft to move all manner of supplies where needed.

An example of a job well done – this one by the Sappers – was officially commended by Ethekwini Metro Council Speaker Thabani Nyawose when taking a section of the M4 back into service. Speaking at an official re-opening of the Boys’ Town section of the M4, he said flood damage to the highway affected the local economy as it links vital economic zones, including Dube TradePort and King Shaka International Airport. Its re-opening, Nyawose said, “brings great joy”.

Major Lucas Masenya, commander of the Engineer Squadron tasked with the Boys’ Town rebuild and rehab, pointed out a primary function of the Sappers is to provide accessibility and mobility. On this count the successful completion of the M4 scored top marks.

In the immediate aftermath of the floods, the sight of camouflage-wearing soldiers wielding shovels to clear clogged roads and storm water drainage of mud and debris was a common – and welcome – sight for residents of the coastal metro and surrounds. Clearing work moved on to using tractor-loader-backhoes, allowing suburban residents access to work their own internal mopping up operations.

Provision of potable water was another feather in the cap of the Sappers. Portable water purification and sachet plants were set up in strategic areas to ensure people were also to use water without fear of falling ill.

Reports indicate national defence force personnel on the ground in KwaZulu-Natal reacted positively to Hlongwa’s appeal to take their work “one project at a time”.

“Understand the objective and – importantly – insist on quality,” he told Sappers and Works Formation artisans at one site.