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WATCH | Most of us might be out of jobs: Bloemhof reeling after floods

Drone footage shows flooded homes as heavy rain causes havoc, prompting government to declare national disaster

20 January 2022 - 20:52

The government declared a national disaster on Thursday as heavy rain caused flooding, landslides and damage to property countrywide, including in the North West town of Bloemhof, where residents eager to start work in the new year have been hit by huge setbacks.

Sifiso Gumede, a head chef at Plek vanni Visarend restaurant, told Sunday Times Daily he was worried about losing his job as water from the Bloemhof Dam continued to seep through the town.

“We just came back from the December break and we were excited to start the year and make a living for our families, and now this. I might lose my job and there’s no one to blame. I have no other means of income,” he said.

Since Tuesday, he and the rest of the staff have been moving their belongings to safety across town.

“We live close to the restaurant on normal days, but I had to move to the township and rent a room in the meantime. That has added financial stress, but we are hopeful.” Gumede said.

Phineas Rakuba, a local contractor installing a sewer pipeline, said he had to let go of 30 recently employed workers because of the floods. He hoped it was only temporary.

“It will take up to a month to get back on schedule. The water [pushed] out the pipe we had already worked on. This will be costly as we have to buy a new one and get specialists to install it,” he added.

It will take up to a month to get back on schedule.
Phineas Rakuba, Bloemhof contractor

One of his employees, Thabiso Kubu, said he did not know what the future held for him.

“It’s not something I want to think about, but there’s a chance most of us might be out of jobs. I won’t have money to look after my child if that should happen. We are all on alert and hoping to make sense of it all soon.”

Head of the National Disaster Management Centre Mmaphaka Tau said the declaration aimed “to further strengthen support to existing structures to implement contingency arrangements and ensure that measures are put in place to enable the national executive to effectively deal with the effects of this disaster”.

Meanwhile, two medical doctors in Bloemhof are among those cut off from their homes because of the storms.

Didier Muchenge* said he had to seek alternative accommodation in town.

“You can’t not panic. It was chaotic moving our stuff out and having to find other places to stay. I have been staying in this area for about two years now and I don’t remember being in a state of emergency. This was hectic.

“Since Monday we’ve been coming down this road to check if the water has subsided,” he said.

The department of water and sanitation (DWS) has opened five sluice gates on the Vaal-Orange River System to cope with “the sheer volume of water due to the ongoing rains”.

Tsholofelo Mathibedi, spokesperson for the provincial cooperative governance department, said recent torrential rain had affected about 702 households in the North West.

“About 13 local municipalities are affected by the disaster. The severe weather conditions have led to damage to property and environmental degradation, which includes the emergence of potholes on many of our roads. This has disrupted community life in the affected areas. To date, there are no reported fatalities.

“The situation is likely to get worse as the sluice gates of the Vaal and Bloemhof dams have been opened to reduce the amount of water and the dam is a tributary.”  

It’s going to be a lot of work and a big expense to get the golf course running again. We need it to dry and we don’t know how the river will run going forward.
Benjamin Runganga, Bloemhof Golf Club
Benjamin Runganga at the Bloemhof Golf Club in the North West, where floods have left the town reeling.
Benjamin Runganga at the Bloemhof Golf Club in the North West, where floods have left the town reeling.
Image: Alon Skuy

At the Bloemhof Golf Club staff fear it will take a long time before they will be able to fully rejuvenate the lawns and get back to business. Benjamin Runganga, the club’s bar manager, said half of the golf course was under water.

“They started opening the water gates on Monday and during the night the levels went up. It was a panic situation because there’s a possibility they will open more [sluice gates].”

They had moved items out of the clubhouse, he said. “We had to work quickly and make sure we didn’t damage property.”

This couldn’t have come at a worse time as their peak period is from Wednesdays to Saturdays.

“We can’t do anything. The club house is closed,” Runganga said.

“It’s going to be a lot of work and a big expense to get the golf course running again. We need it to dry and we don’t know how the river will run going forward.”

Nico van Rensburg, owner of Sielerus Lodge in Orkney, about two hours from Bloemhof along the river, said his business was badly affected as bookings had declined.

“We have people coming in out of curiosity to check out the flood impact, but not to book. It’s bad because we are at a standstill and we don’t know how long it will last.

“Though we didn’t build on the flood line, we are affected because our business attraction is close to the river. We had to evacuate most of our caravans and chalets,” Van Rensburg said.

* Name changed to protect identity of the interviewee.

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