Soldiers, sappers, military medics and airmen activated for KZN flood relief effort


Widespread rain and subsequent disastrous floods in KwaZulu-Natal has seen the military “activated” to assist in cleaning and mopping up as well as provide other assistance in terms of its standing commitment – Operation Chariot –  to provide humanitarian aid to South Africans in need.

A statement from the Directorate: Corporate Communication (DCC) of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has it the SA Air Force (SAAF), SA Army and SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) with support from the Logistics Division will commit 10 000 military personnel to the stricken province for an as yet undisclosed period of time. The activation of the airmen, sappers, soldiers and health practitioners in various disciplines is, without it being stated as such, seemingly immediate.

The statement, signed off by DCC director, Brigadier General Andries Mahapa, has it the landward force “was instructed to activate 10 000 troops”. The 15 companies of soldiers will work under command of five battalion headquarters, including engineer and support capabilities with a further 45 companies ready to mobilise if needed.

Soldiers will, according to the statement, “render support as part of Operation Chariot erecting field accommodation, provisioning fresh water with own water purification systems and the deployment of electricians to restore power and plumbers to restore water supplies in areas affected by the floods”.

Army “pledges” include thirty-one 10 000 litre water bunkers, three water provisioning systems, two water points to supply water in either litre bottles or plastic sachets, and a platoon of electricians and plumbers (not stated, but presumably from Works Formation). The landward force will further supply 60 tents and bedding for communities and people affected by flooding, mudslides and wash-aways of roads, power supply and other provincial and municipal services.

Other SA National Defence Force elements activated for the humanitarian assistance tasking are Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo’s SA Air Force and Surgeon General Lieutenant General Ntshavheni Maphaha’s Military Health Service.

The SAAF will commit a pair of “medium utility helicopters” (Oryx) and two A-109 light utility rotorcraft along with an unnamed fixed wing aircraft, believed to be a Cessna Caravan – a Caravan has been used to deliver thousands of sandbags to Durban. The aircraft will assist in disaster management efforts and activities. “Activities could include search and rescue, extraction, reconnaissance/assessment missions, trooping and transport of humanitarian relief equipment and goods.”

SAAF Oryx and BK 117 helicopters are already being used for search and rescue, body recovery, and logistics duties, including transporting food and other items donated by Gift of the Givers.

SAMHS, the statement has it, “must provide operational health support in the disaster area of KwaZulu-Natal”. This will see maroon-bereted men and women provide medical support to people displaced and injured in the floods as well as “general disaster relief efforts”. SAMHS will also task medical officers (doctors), nurses, psychologists, social workers and pharmacists to the province, which is now officially a disaster area.

Logistics, in the form of the Works Formation, “will provide capabilities and technical expertise to assist in disaster management efforts and activities” the statement reads, adding “requirements for construction equipment and technical personnel (artisans)” could be part of its tasking.

The activation of the SANDF comes two days after a senior Democratic Alliance (DA) KZN MPL called for deployment of military engineering units to repair water treatment plants, extraction points and major pipelines “to allow for the free flow of water again”.

To date, 443 people are known to have lost their lives in KwaZulu-Natal, with approximately 48 people still missing or unaccounted for. One death has also been reported in the Eastern Cape Areas located close to rivers, waterways, particularly informal settlements, were severely affected, and many dwellings were swept away.

Meanwhile, almost 4 000 homes have been completely destroyed and over 8 300 homes have been partially damaged. It is also estimated that more than 40 000 people have been displaced by these floods.

The Port of Durban, which is one of the largest and busiest shipping terminals on the continent and which is vital to the country’s economy – has also been severely affected.

Access to the port has been disrupted by extensive damaged to Bayhead Road, which links to the Durban Port Operations to the rest of the country. The route handles 13 000 heavy vehicles per day.

There is also extensive damage to public infrastructure, including schools, health facilities, police stations and magistrates’ courts. It is estimated that over 270 000 learners have been affected and over 600 schools have been damaged.