S. Africa floods kill 13, thousands displaced from their homes

Friday February 17 2023
A woman with her baby is helped to cross River Mhlambanyatsi

A woman with her new-born baby is helped to cross River Mhlambanyatsi after a bridge collapsed on February 16, 2023 following heavy floods which severely affected Nkomazi Municipality in Mpumalanga, South Africa. PHOTO | AFP


Khanyisile Hlekwa, 33, screamed for help as floodwaters surged into the windows of her home in Northeast South Africa, where she and her four children were trapped by the deluge.

"I thought I was going to die. The water was so high, and it was swirling." she told AFP after her ordeal in the small town of Kamhlushwa in Mpumalanga Province.

Hlekwa and her family are among dozens left homeless and destitute by the South African floods that killed 13 people, after days of relentless heavy rains showed no signs of letting up.

"The floods came heavily through the windows at 4 AM. When I tried to call the neighbours for help, I realised they were also trapped in their house. That is when I started to scream for help." Hlekwa said, as she weaved a grass mat. 

Hlekwa said water levels had reached just above her stomach before a neighbour used a rope to pull her and her children out through a window.

Her house, an informal structure made with mud and cement, collapsed.


She and her children are among dozens of families who have sought refuge at an abandoned school, where they have been sleeping on thin sponge mattresses for a week.

Dozens of children lined up on Thursday to receive a bowl of corn mash paired with a vegetable relish in the school hall.

Homes washed away

South Africa declared a national state of disaster this week as floods hit seven of its nine provinces, damaging infrastructure and destroying crops.

“Four people died in Mpumalanga Province, one of the hardest hit provinces,” said Lungi Mtshali, Spokesman for the National Disaster Management Department.

Local Mayor Phindile Magugula said four people remained missing in their district, where hundreds had been displaced.

"We have almost 1815 families that are without shelter some of their homes have been washed away by the heavy rains," Magugula told AFP.

Risk of further flooding

“More heavy downpours are expected, with rain to shift further east of the country in the coming days,” Puseletso Mofokeng from the South African Weather Services (SAWS) told AFP by phone.

The forecaster added that the famed Kruger National Park, a tourist magnet bordering Mozambique, also in Mpumalanga Province, remained at risk for further flooding.

Damaged roads and bridges also meant some families could not access aid.

Magugula said that in her region, 269 footbridges and 18 big bridges have been washed away by the floods, making it difficult for rescue efforts and food distribution.

The military helped airlift humanitarian relief parcels and aid workers on a chopper to nearby Mekemeke Village on Thursday after days of inaccessibility.

“The community of Mekemeke has been "very afraid" of not having food,” resident Alpheus Thwala told AFP shortly after the military chopper landed in the village located in midst of a dense forest. He added that they were now thankful.

Social workers from the South African Red Cross Society provided psychological support to survivors.

"Losing loved ones, belongings and having to start from scratch can affect ones’ mental health," Kgeta Mothotse, a Red Cross Provincial Manager told AFP.

Another resident of the village, Mhlabane Mbuso, said they were left in hardship after the bridges and most of their homes were swept away by the floods.