Many of you may have seen the infamous video confronting eThekwini staff at Virginia Airport on Monday concerning flood relief for displaced citizens of the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Councillor Chantal de Boer of ward 36 spoke out about the general mobilization of community members, local businesses and ward committee members to help those affected.
The members of the Durban North residents association were part of this initiative.
Chantal states, “The initial need was to assist the Briardene settlement in Ward 36” an area allocated to her as Councillor.
“Several local drop-off points were established and donations poured in. I am pleased to say that several large drop-offs of much-needed food, blankets and associated items were done to Briardene. Additionally, the Malacca Road settlement was also assisted by donations”.
“During the week, there was a call to assist the search and rescue teams based at Virginia Airport”.
“Again, local restaurants, supermarkets and donors responded with much love and generosity. Hot meals, snack packs and water together with essentials such as boots, gloves, wipes and socks were donated to the rescue teams”.
A team of local ladies took it upon themselves to help pack and sort the items into rescue packs at Virginia Airport, working tirelessly in shift systems.
On Monday several people arrived in NDM marked vehicles where these rescue packs were being prepared. Indicating they were eThekwini municipal vehicles.
“At some stage during the day, one or more staff members were seen opening and eating from the prepared snack packs.
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 the rescue packs into the vehicles.
This obviously caused serious alarm for volunteers who questioned the officials as to 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 then placed to, the chairwoman of the Durban North residents association”.
Some salient yet important facts in this incident must be investigated. Given that these are community and business donations, accountability as to what happens to and with those donations is critically important.
- Why were officials instructed to enter into what is essentially private property and simply load up donations specifically earmarked for use by rescue crews?
- On whose authority were the officials instructed to travel to Virginia Airport and load up these donations?
- If the officials were genuinely there to collect some other donations, why did they not make some simple enquiries as to where those donations may be?
- If indeed 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.
- Under what authority or law can municipal officials simply walk into any area and commandeer food donations? This is indeed a serious question. If the city is emboldened to do this once; what stops it from simply commandeering food and donations from NGOs, religious organizations and the like?
The whole incident has been escalated to our most senior people, including Members of both the Provincial Legislature and Parliament.
The eThekwini Municipality has quickly responded by defending the staff concerned. But fail to answer the above questions.
Perhaps saddest of all, is that municipality staff summoned Saps members to assist them in packing and leaving Virginia Airport. Saps members were in essence helping eThekwini remove aid from people on the ground being supported by SAPS Search and Rescue members. The video clearly shows a SAPS vehicle loaded with water/goods.
There are still many questions and answers that need to be ventilated in this matter. It won’t be left to go away. Treating people’s donations with respect is a priority. Supporting those who brave death on a daily basis is a priority.
“As one of the people who called on people to donate – it is incumbent on me to get to the bottom of it. This issue will not be swept under the carpet”. – Said de Boer.