Workers dig mass graves for those who perished in a mudslide at a site in Waterloo, Sierra Leone. Burials are being prepared for more than 500 who died in the natural disaster, with a search continuing for 600 still unaccounted for. Picture: EPA
The government has donated R8 million in humanitarian aid to Sierra Leone, hit by mudslides that claimed 500, with hundreds more missing.

It follows an appeal to the public for assistance to the tiny West African nation and to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which suffered landslides, by Plumstead teacher Ellen Fedele, reported in the Cape Times on Monday.

“The response has been heart-warming. I thank our government for stepping up to assist a fellow African nation in its time of need. This is what I love most about our continent.

“When something happens, we forget about our nationalities, colour, religion, borders and become simply Africans united.”

International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said South Africa’s initial plan had been to send a search, rescue and recovery team.

South Africa’s contribution would now be through the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to provide materials for temporary shelters, medical supplies and food aid.

“This will not be the only contribution we are making. Accordingly, we would like to take this opportunity to humbly make an appeal to the South African people, in their personal capacities and as members of organisations, to join the efforts to assist the sisterly people of Sierra Leone in this hour of need,” she added.

The WFP had been identified for this purpose as it had the required expertise and experience to execute this function, and was already on the ground in Sierra Leone.

South Africa’s donation, according to Nkoana-Mashabane, was in response to Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma’s appeal for urgent help to support the thousands of his country’s people who had been affected by the mudslide disaster.

Nkoana-Mashabane said South Africa’s decision to donate the R8m, and not to send a search and rescue team to Sierra Leone, was as a result of Koroma’s suspension of his country’s search, rescue and recovery operation.

Koroma had explained that the suspension was due to difficulties and constraints relating to weather conditions and the bad state of bodies recovered, said Nkoana-Mashabane.

She said African Union Commission chairperson Faki Mahamat had also appealed to all Africans and the diaspora, as well as to international partners, to support Sierra Leone and its public health system to respond to the disaster.

The disaster had occurred only two years after the country successfully dealt with the deadliest Ebola outbreak in living memory, Nkoana-Mashabane said.

The South African government, in line with the spirit of solidarity of Ubuntu, had decided to respond positively to Sierra Leone’s appeal for humanitarian assistance .

“The government would like to once again express deepest and heartfelt condolences to the government and people of the Republic of Sierra Leone following one of the worst floods in our continent.

“This natural disaster has devastated significant parts of Sierra Leone’s capital, resulting in massive loss of life, destruction of property and leaving behind a catastrophic humanitarian crisis,” added Nkoana-Mashabane.

She said it was important to point out that the disaster in Sierra Leone was yet another indication that the effects of climate change came at a devastating cost.

Nkoana-Mashabane said: “The South African Broadcasting Corporation, through its foundation, has availed its radio, online and television platforms to publicise this drive.

‘‘Our gratitude also goes to MTN for assisting us at short notice to set up the facility to allow the public to make contributions. We call upon other corporates to get involved.”

Nkoana-Mashabane said donations to the campaign could be made in the following manner:

SMS the word “Relief” to 38510. SMSes cost R10.

The minister said that alternatively, the government supported efforts of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, who were already on the ground in Sierra Leone through the South African Red Cross Society. She added that donations could be made using these banking details:

Account name: The South African Red Cross

Bank name: Standard Bank

Account number: 001 35 5929

Branch code: 051001

Reference: Sierra Leone Relief