Hoedspruit Rallies After Storm

Almost three weeks after tropical depression Dando caused severe flooding in the greater Hoedspruit area, the town is still without drinking water. Hoedspruit Air Force Base staff and volunteers are doing extraordinary work to repair extensive damage to the reservoirs. Work is also ongoing to fix pipes, pumps and pump stations in the Blyde River.

Rumours abound about political wrestling over getting the area declared as a national disaster area, the municipality's inability to identify with many of the victims, government's tortoise steps when and where a cheetah chase was needed.

Yet, the people of Hoedspruit came through when it mattered - and still do. Every family member, friend, neighbour, colleague and acquaintance - even strangers with the only thing in common a warthog bumper sticker - every one that reached out on January 18, 19 and the days after, have and still are writing one of the most remarkable chapters in the history of this area.

From where I'm standing, human interest is still tipping the scales against the almost inevitable political play. Hats off to those in the inner ['higher'] circles who manage to keep the victims and the well-being of Hoedspruit's people as priority one.

On January 31, 2012, representatives from Radio Jacaranda and the Red Cross visited the town to deliver donations from listeners within the Radio Jacaranda area. More than 80 000 litres of water and about 30 tons of non-perishable foods were handed over to the Hoedspruit mayor in an official ceremony at the municipal buildings. "After being exposed to the true devastation that occurred, the reality of the severe situation in Hoedspruit has left the team speechless. And the magnitude of all the donations received is appreciated all over again!" said Rian van Heerden, one of the Jacaranda crew.

I could not stay for the entire media show, but caught Hoedspruit resident Zenta Nel on Rian's radio breakfast show the following morning. Zenta and her husband, Anton, live on the banks of the Klaserie River at the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve Head Quarters where Anton works as an accountant. On Monday, January 16, the Nels heard that Anton had terminal cancer with only 6-10 months to live. Two days later, the floods took about 80 percent of their belongings, including precious photos and other keepsakes.

The show's "Good Morning Angels" project gave the couple R60 000 to spend as they wish. Leading up to the handover, Rian spoke to Zenta who was clearly devastated, yet dignified, strong and reaching out to others' pain, despite her own. The tears came when she said: "I don't mind sleeping on the blow-up bed, because I have my husband next to me."

Zenta is one of many who epitomize the spirit of the Hoedspruit community, which is made up of a diverse bunch of people. The Hoedspruit Ubuntu is always lurking. It probably refuels when the pocket-fights flare - the farm murder, the town rape, the hail storm, the gutted house. But when the 'storm' comes, the community's spirit lights up like Cape Town's 2010 soccer stadium at night.

Farmers, workers and construction companies pull together to rebuild roads, shop owners donate goods, residents donate time, money and effort and the town rebuilds, until the next storm comes. This time, my family and I too were at the receiving end of so many helping hands. Thank you to all.

A day after this article was filed, the Hoedspruit Humanitarian Relief Centre, a joint initiative by the community based Hoedspruit Victim Support Unit and the Hoedspruit Air Force Base, closed down. All donations were handed over to the Red Cross who is based at Maruleng Municipality Community Hall.

The community initiative assisted about 200 households in the days immediately after the floods with food parcels and water.

Thank you to all who have donated to the HRC, who have volunteered and spent time sorting and packing. Your contributions are greatly appreciated. Over the last week or two, we have distributed over 55 000 litres of water and between 300 and 400 parcels of food, clothing and other items and it has been a humbling experience for all." - a notice on the Hoedspruit Info Google Groups.

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