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When the Cape’s forest fires get out of hand in a blaze, the sight is spectacular. When the blaze in the informal settlement of Masiphumelele, near FishHoek, took hold before Christmas it was terrifying. There can be few experiences worse than seeing your entire life go up in flames. Frightened and helpless, residents watched as the viciousness of the fires devoured everything in their path. One thousand shacks were destroyed, many burnt to the ground, leaving some 5000 residents homeless. These houses are generally informally constructed and densely packed with poorly fitted amenities.
The Salvation Army assisted those for whom the most pressing needs were: emergency food, hygiene packs and kits of household equipment. Our Territorial and Western Cape Divisional teams joined forces – food hampers, cooking pots and two-plate stoves were provided to 350 families. A similar number also received hygiene packs including hand soap, face cloth, toothbrush and toothpaste.
*Continued support will also be required when families are placed in temporary shelters as plans to rebuild their homes are devised. And by the way, Masiphumelele is a Xhosa language word meaning ‘let us succeed’ – Ed.
More devastating fires
A similar situation happened in Booysens informal settlement (south of Johannesburg) in January this year when families were anguished as they saw, within an hour, 760 shacks being ravaged by the inferno, leaving more than 1000 people homeless – no fatalities were recorded. The cause of the fire could not be determined. These people will have to rebuild from scratch.
The merciless fire led to the distribution of various goods ranging from toiletries to food and cooking utensils
New border control nightmare
The enhanced border control measures, introduced to help minimise the spread of the Corona virus, including a new strain, created delays of up to six days, in hellish heat, at closed borders.
The Salvation Army teams – each consisting of 11 people with specially produced personal protective equipment – have been working at the border posts connecting South Africa with Zimbabwe (Beitbridge), Mozambique (Lebombo), eSwatini (Oshoek) and Lesotho (Maseru Bridge).
As your new editor, I was fortunate to spend some time at Beitbridge, the busiest border post in Southern Africa, and help our emergency response team bring relief to people in real need. In these hot conditions and with these abhorrent delays people were suffering badly from dehydration, heat exhaustion, malnutrition and significant stress.
Thousands of people were trying to cross the border, many struggling to maintain social distancing. There were women with children, and men, young and old, who had been in the queue for days. My heart went out to Nyasha* (27) who’d spent the last 3 days in the queue. She was exhausted. The delay meant she had missed days of work in South Africa and was most concerned she would lose her job. She was also worried that by the time she got to the front of the queue her paperwork, confirming that she had been tested for the Corona virus, would have expired.
Queues of trucks waiting to take goods across the border stretched back for more than 15 kilometers. These drivers had my full sympathy. They were tired, frustrated and in fear for their lives. They complained about the lack of access to water, food, and ablution facilities. Justice* told me he hadn’t slept for two nights as it was too dangerous to leave his vehicle. At each location we distributed health information. Up to 800 travellers at each border post were given a pack consisting of 1,5 litres of water, long-life milk, bread, energy bars, fruit and sweet treats as well as bars of soap, a washcloth and hand sanitizer.
Being aware of the elevated risk of human trafficking across country borders in such challenging times, we handed out leaflets to drivers and passengers containing information on how to be alert to the risks and reduce the likelihood of susceptibility.
“In the hot conditions, it is exhausting,” says Major Heather Rossouw, Territorial Emergency Services Director. “But with current border conditions, we immediately felt the need to provide relief at the posts.”
Women and children from neighbouring countries who desperately need help and are cared for in three safe centres in Musina, were also assisted.
New public health campaign
Posters developed at The Salvation Army’s International Headquarters in London, are being translated into Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu and other southern African languages.
At the same time, in South Africa we are still facing other disasters that need our attention. The outbreaks of storms and fires in some parts of the country have affected our people badly. Our mission is to continue to provide help and rescue where we can.
*Names changed to protect identity
Fondest farewell … and warmest welcome!
First of all, it’s sad to say goodbye to Major Carin Holmes, our highly competent and much beloved Public Relations Secretary for Southern Africa Territory for the past eight years. Her work included being editor of this newsletter. Her commitment was total and we will continue to benefit from her insights and hard work.
As the new Divisional Commander for the Lusaka North West Division in Zambia Major Carin will bring great success, enthusiasm and joy to the job. We’re sure she will meet the challenge of keeping the focus on having faith in God.
…and we open our arms to a new spirit
Then it gives us great pleasure to offer a joyous welcome to Captain Velani Buthelezi who takes over the reigns from Major Carin. He has been very involved with this issue of Reporter, so has already gained a terrific grasp on our ‘little society’.
He has been with The Salvation Army since 2007, is married and has a daughter aged eight. He spent the first eight years as a Corps Officer (church pastor), the next four as the Divisional Youth Secretary, then two years as the Field Training Officer at the College for Officer Training.
“This is a time of growth and I welcome the challenge” says the young captain enthusiastically. He hopes to build further on the strong foundations that have already been laid.
Feeding scheme a great success
Last year The Salvation Army assisted the Department of Social Development (DSD) when trusted with catering for hundreds of destitute men and women with their children who were severely affected by lockdown. This was a DSD project to alleviate the plight of these homeless people in seven camps/shelters in Pretoria.
During April to September The Salvation Army’s dedicated team of 56 volunteers and ten officers worked tirelessly, preparing and distributing three meals a day to more than 900 people.
It was a privilege and a humbling experience to have this project channeled through The Salvation Army. To actually meet these people and hear the hardships they face daily was heartbreaking. Being unemployed …trying to find work in tattered clothing … losing touch with your family … sleeping under bridges or in parks … not knowing where your next meal would come from. We tend to forget just how hard life is for so many people in our country. This was a wonderful opportunity for us to share the Word of God, pray with and to council these precious people. At The Salvation Army we give thanks daily for those who inspire us to fulfil our mission of ‘Heart to God, hand to man’.
A NEW PERSPECTIVE
I’d always read the Reporter with great interest and never really thought about ‘the readers’ as anything but a reader. Judging from your letters, comments and constant enthusiasm I realize that you are all individuals and would really love to meet every one of you personally.
I am particularly impressed with your constant generosity, without which The Salvation Army would never have been able to survive. In my new position I feel boldened to suggest to you to consider monthly contributions if you are not already helping us care for the most needy in this way. Every cent you’ve ever given to this extraordinary organisation is appreciated to such an extent, we are constantly thanking God for your benevolence. You will appreciate especially in these uncertain times how hugely important it is to have a more accurate idea for budgeting. The Covid-19 worldwide scare has created a tremendous extra burden on our resources.
I am so looking forward to communicating with you through the Reporter, particularly when we have good news to exchange. Remember that God is always with us and simply wants our trust.
Captain Velani Buthelezi
Public Relations Secretary
Southern Africa Territory