Durban - The government on Tuesday sought to reassure a worried public about efforts to help the east coast, where millions remained without water more than a week after deadly storms pounded the region.
Following up a declaration late Monday of a national state of disaster, President Cyril Ramaphosa dispatched top ministers to the city of Durban and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province, where at least 443 people have died and 40 000 are homeless.
"These floods are the worst floods that we have ever seen in living memory," Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the minister in charge of disaster management, told a news conference.
"The impact of these floods are well beyond the province," she said.
Health Minister Joe Phaahla visited the Prince Mshiyeni regional hospital, where for the past week, patients have used buckets to bathe and flush toilets.
"The main challenge there is water," he told AFP. "The main supply from the municipality is cut off."
Normally the hospital sees 2 000 patients a day. The minister said workers were repairing cisterns to store water delivered by tankers.
About 100 residents of the devastated Umlazi neighbourhood waited outside the hospital, fearful that their medical records had been lost in the storm.
Several hospitals reported that files had been lost or damaged, raising fears among patients with chronic conditions.
Pravin Gordhan, the minister for public enterprises, met with officials at the Port of Durban - the second-largest container port in Africa.
During the height of the floods last week, containers were tossed about like building blocks. As the waters subsided, key roads connecting the port to the rest of the country sustained heavy damage.
The problems have created bottlenecks for around 13,000 truckers who daily have to get goods to and from the port, which serves a vast stretch of Africa as far as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Two lanes of traffic were restored by Sunday, while special ships were scooping debris from the water to allow shipping to resume.
Helicopters flew low across the city, searching for dozens of people still missing.
Along roadsides, residents dragged mattresses and other possessions into a welcome day of sunshine, trying to dry out whatever possessions they could salvage.
About 10 000 troops have been deployed to assist, both with air support for search efforts and relief operations, but also with engineering, plumbing and electrical support to try to get basic services running.
"We have managed to get into KZN with search and rescue, and helicopters that have hoist facilities," Defence Minister Thandi Modise said on television.
They "also sent aircrafts which will be able to take food to the various inaccessible places. Yesterday we sent in teams to start putting up water tankers and water bunkers. We are also putting in teams to purify water," she added.
Video: African News Agency (ANA)
However, many in South African are wary of the government efforts, recalling the recent experience of emergency funds that were looted or misspent at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Experience has clearly shown the vulnerability of our procurement systems to corruption in times of crisis, if one considers the rampant corruption during the Covid-19 pandemic," said Karam Singh, head of the non-profit Corruption Watch.
"There must be absolute transparency and full disclosure of how these funds are being distributed, ensuring that they reach the communities for whom they are intended," he added.
Seeking to pre-empt such concerns, Ramaphosa announced a new oversight body comprising the auditor-general, business and religious leaders, as well as professional groups of engineers and accountants.