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Durban woman who recorded ‘stolen flood aid’ video speaks

19 April 2022 - 11:50
An overview of the situation at Khokhoba in Reservoir Hills which has left thousands homeless and destitute. Relief aid is pouring in as many organisations arrange goods for affected communities.
An overview of the situation at Khokhoba in Reservoir Hills which has left thousands homeless and destitute. Relief aid is pouring in as many organisations arrange goods for affected communities.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

A Durban woman who filmed donor aid allegedly being removed from the Virginia Airport stands by her claim that the eThekwini municipality was removing hampers intended for rescue staff without permission.

On Tuesday Ward 36 Residents Association chair Vanessa Knight told TimesLIVE she had agreed to meet with officials before the municipality issued a statement saying the aid was removed in a “misunderstanding” and she had tarnished the reputation of a municipal employee by claiming the woman had stolen hampers.

“There was no misunderstanding. If you are removing something that does not belong to you, that is stealing. I didn’t accuse the woman of being a thief. I said eThekwini municipality was stealing. Many videos were shared. It just so happened that the one with the woman driving the municipal vehicle was shared many times,” Knight said.

Knight said the aid was donated by residents and businesses for rescue teams. What was left was sent with rescue teams to distribute to victims during rescue efforts.

“We received a call from the sister of one of the rescuers based at Virginia Airport. She said people were sleeping in the hangars and needed aid. We provided beds, water, food and toilet paper. Soon businesses came on board. We decided we would package that to send with rescue helicopters because we knew they were meeting people who had no access to roads or were grieving and would need something to show others care.”

Knight was not aware Virginia Airport was a drop-off point for aid donated to eThekwini municipality.

“We did not see a single press release or post indicating Virginia Airport was a drop-off point. The entire time we were there, there was no one collecting for the municipality. However, we are now being told it was a drop-off point so our aid had to have been for the health department. The people who arrived for it said it was destined for the health department. We chose for that aid to go with rescue teams because we knew it would go to people who needed it.”

Knight claimed municipal officials arrived without paperwork.

“They pitched up and loaded the hampers. They said it was going to the disaster management centre.”

Knight said she had no choice but to park her car in front of the municipal vehicles to prevent them from driving away.

I have never encountered anything like this, where I am made to look like a crazy woman for telling the truth
Vanessa Knight, Ward 36 Residents Association chair

“No one was listening to me. Eventually the aid was returned and I agreed to meet municipal officials. In the entire time I have been facilitating donations and aid over the years, I have never encountered anything like this, where I am made to look like a crazy woman for telling the truth. I stand by my story.”

Shortly after the video went viral on Monday, the eThekwini municipality denied the allegations, saying they were fake news.

“The driver was not stealing. She is one of our employees in the community participation unit and is assigned to deliver donations to one of the townships. We can also confirm reports that some residents are insisting their donated goods be delivered to areas of their choice, and typically the areas they dictate are not the most impacted.

“It is unfortunate that the employee in question has had her reputation tarnished in this manner. We call upon the public to desist from creating and spreading fake news.”

Ward 36 councillor Shontel de Boer said she had escalated the incident to DA members within the provincial legislature..

“On Monday several people arrived at the area where rescue packs were being prepared. They arrived in NDM-marked vehicles, indicating they are eThekwini municipal vehicles. At some stage during the day, one or more staff members were seen opening and eating from prepared snack packs,” she said.

“Needless to say, the volunteers queried this conduct and expressed their concern. Not long after, the same officials brought a truck (NDM vehicle) and started loading rescue packs into the vehicles.

“This obviously caused serious alarm for volunteers, who questioned the officials about their intentions, where the parcels were being taken and on whose authority. The officials allegedly failed to provide adequate answers to the community volunteers. A call was placed to the chairperson of the Durban North Residents Association.”

De Boer  questioned why officials were instructed to enter private property and load donations specifically earmarked for use by rescue crews. 

“On whose authority were the officials instructed to travel to Virginia Airport to load the donations? If the officials were genuinely there to collect other donations, why did they not make enquiries to establish where those donations were? If the municipality believes the rescue packs belong to the city, why did they return them?

“Perhaps it was a case of miscommunication, but surely courteous dialogue from the outset would have helped establish what belongs to who.

“There are many questions and answers that need to be ventilated in this matter. It won’t be left to go away.”

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