‘It was a snake. It will come back’
Sheree Bega and Noni Mokati
As the storm clouds gathered over Duduza this week, David Kaibe saw them as a frightening omen. Like many of his neighbours in Cool Breeze, he worried the tornado that had reduced his house to rubble would strike again.
But as the rain started to fall, he could only shrug disconsolately and continue clearing the ruins of the home he had been so proud of.
“This used to be my bathroom and there, where those rocks are lying, was our bedroom,” said the dejected 56-year-old, tears welling in his eyes.
“See there,” he pointed to the wreckage of his RDP house, “that was our fridge, and over there, our children’s rooms.
“My heart is broken. It is finished. There is nothing left.”
Although he and his family have lost everything, they are alive and unhurt, and for this Kaibe is grateful. “I am just happy that no one died here. God called me and directed me and my family out of the house. We were at church and we were saved.”
When the tornado struck on Sunday night, others like Alina Mokoena were bringing in their laundry, or, like Stanley Nongogo, were watching TV. “All of a sudden, the sky got very dark and it was very windy,” said Mokoena, staring up at the sky.
“There was a whistling sound and it was very scary,” added Nongogo.
Superstitions about the cause of the tornado endure. “It was a snake, but it has run away now. It will come back,” said Kaibe.
The tornado left a trail of destruction in Cool Breeze. Xolani Mkhatshwa, 8, was killed when a wall collapsed on him, almost 200 people were injured, and nearly 3 000 left homeless.
In much of the wasteland that is Cool Breeze, some houses stand intact and their owners count themselves lucky. Corrugated iron lies curled in treetops, scrunched like an accordion.
A light post lies collapsed, skewering a nearby house, whose roof has been torn off. Appliances stand exposed in the street.
Residents have articulated the desolation. “Snake” is scrawled on one wall, all that remains of a house, while the entrance to Cool Breeze is scrawled with a spraypainted lament that reads: “Destroyed for ever.”
But the resilience abounds. “I cried when I came home and saw what was left of my house,” said Tsibo Molefe, sweeping the dust from the home she shares with her sister and her one-year-old son. “I never thought this could happen. We have nothing left, no clothes, no bed, no food. But what you can do? You have to carry on.”
Traipsing over the rubble, a local government official, whose breath is tinged with booze, admits many of the houses that fell when the tornado descended were poorly built. “We did our assessments and some of the structures were not built properly. We found houses that were not reinforced.”
There is hope. Relief organisations like the Gift of the Givers and the Red Cross spent the week building temporary homes, distributing hot meals, clothes and blankets, while local businesses have been spurred to volunteer their time to rebuild the community, or to donate funds and food – with some pledging to supply the furniture residents have lost.
For those without a home to call their own, their nights are spent with relatives or at the local community hall.
Zakade Mzanga, 72, told how he had been at work when the tornado ripped through his house.
“My neighbour called me saying I should rush over. My house was demolished. When I arrived everything was a mess and bricks had landed on my son’s car. I’m so happy he can still use it.”
Miriam Nkosi also worries the tornado could return. “I’m scared that this might happen again. What I saw is nothing to laugh about. Clothes, dogs and papers and plastic were flying in the air. This was not a tornado. It was a very angry snake,” she insisted.
Lydia Nhlapo, the wife of a priest whose house was left unscathed, said she and her family prayed when their walls started to tremble from the impact of the tornado.
“We got down on our knees and prayed. When it was over we went outside and saw that my neighbour’s house had fallen and that some people were injured,” she said. “It is by God’s grace that we are alive.”