SANDF assists with search and rescue in Eastern Cape following flooding

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The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has once again been called on to assist with disaster relief efforts in South Africa, this time following flooding in the Eastern Cape.

On 13 February the government declared a national state of disaster following flooding in the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, the Northern Cape and North West, driven by the ongoing La Niña phenomenon. Under the state of disaster, national entities, including the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the SANDF, were required to respond.

The defence force was duly called on to assist, and following flooding in Coffee Bay on 18 February, SANDF elements were despatched to the area after roads and bridges in the area were washed away and people were reported missing. Residents were left without electricity and water as pipes were damaged and power cables were affected.

Six SA Navy divers, five medics, a BK 117 helicopter, and South African Police Service sniffer dogs were deployed in the area to conduct daily search and rescue activities, reports Captain Tamsanqa Hoyi for Joint Tactical Headquarters Eastern Cape. Five bodies were recovered and efforts to restore services and roads are continuing.

Eastern Cape Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) MEC Zolile Williams said it would cost the Eastern Cape provincial government an estimated R4.5 billion to fix and replace road and bridge infrastructure damaged by the floods that battered the province last month.

“This doesn’t include all other infrastructure, especially water and sanitation infrastructure that was also damaged. The estimated cost for human settlements stands at R420 million, for all the recoveries,” he said.

The latest flooding took place against the backdrop of similar destructive weather in 2021 and 2022, which caused destruction in the range of R1.9 billion.

As natural disasters are becoming the ‘new normal’ due to climate change, the SANDF is looking to establish a dedicated disaster response unit. In mid-February the Chief of the SANDF, General Rudzani Maphwanya, said that the military is looking at redoing its force design and establishing a disaster management unit with dedicated resources.

He explained that up until now the SANDF has been responding in an ad hoc way to disasters and using military equipment that should be dedicated to warfighting, but with a dedicated disaster response unit, the SANDF won’t have to decide whether to allocate assets to war or disaster relief.

The SANDF is contributing to the state of disaster declared over the electricity crisis by safeguarding power stations to prevent pilfering and subversion.