Caroline Makubule has been sitting on a mattress at a relative’s house for days now as she helplessly waits for news on the whereabouts of her husband Sipho, who was swept away by floods last month. She did not move an inch when the Sowetan team and Mpumalanga premier Refilwe Mtshweni-Tsipane visited the home on Monday. She covered her face with a scarf and wept silently.
Makubule was too devastated to speak. Sipho from KaNyamazane, outside Mbombela, is one of four people who are still missing after the torrential rains that hit parts of Mpumalanga a few weeks ago. At least nine people lost their lives.
Sipho’s sister Thelma Makubule said her brother was not feeling well on January 31, the day he was washed away with half of his house, when heavy rains hit KaNyamazane. Thelma said Sipho had taken medication but when he could not fall asleep, he left his wife in the bedroom and went to the lounge. Minutes later, half of the house, including the lounge, was swept away.
“What’s more painful is that my brother left an unborn baby. What pains us is that we have not found him. We cannot declare him dead now. We have to see his body and bury him before it sinks in that he is no more,” said Thelma.
Thelma described her brother as someone who loved his family dearly. “They [Sipho and his wife] were expecting a baby … Now his wife is hurting and we fear that could badly affect the unborn baby,” she added.
In the Chief Albert Luthuli municipality, two families are mourning the deaths of two children who drowned in holes filled with rain water — one meant for a pit toilet and the other for a drain.
One-year-old Prince Nkosi drowned after he fell into a hole meant for a pit toilet at his home in Enkaba village, outside Carolina, on the 26th of January.
His mother Thobile Khumalo, 44, broke down as she spoke of her loss, explaining that she can’t get over her son’s death.
“Some days I don’t even eat because I have hope that I’ll see him running up to me. I don’t even want counselling because I’m holding on to his memories,” said Khumalo.
The village is surrounded by mountains and is sandy. Khumalo, a single mother of five, said when it rains, water from the mountains flows to the village and it easily gets flooded. She said she was doing a part-time job in the area when she got a call to come home.
“When I arrived at my house, there was a crowd gathered in the yard. I didn’t understand what was happening until I walked closer to where they were and saw my baby floating in muddy water. I was looking forward to his second birthday and many more but instead I lost him in the most painful way in my own yard,” she said.
About 40km from Enkaba, Buyiswa Thwala is mourning the death of her four-year-old son Zanokuhle, who drowned in a hole dug up by a neighbour to make a drain.
“Because of the floods, his toy had been swept away down the road into the drain. I think he ran thinking he had finally found his scooter but he fell into the pool of water and drowned,” said Thwala.
Thwala said she was at a stokvel meeting when the tragic incident happened.
“I was fetched by my friend. When I arrived at the scene, my son was laying on the ground and I tried to resuscitate him with the help of neighbours. They had already called the paramedics but I picked him up and walked to the [Embuleni district] hospital, hoping he would survive but he was certified dead by paramedics on arrival at the hospital,” she explained.
A neighbour who saw the child fall into the hole said he could not reach the boy. “I ran to the drain and asked neighbours for a ladder but it was too little too late. By the time we tried to get him out he had stopped breathing,” said the woman.
On Sunday, community members found the body of Nhlanhla Nkosi, 14, who was washed away by floods in Donkerhoek, Piet Retief. He had been missing for a week.
“We are hurting. Our son was like a hero to us. He learnt to ride a horse at a very young age. On the day he disappeared he was looking after the family’s livestock riding his horse with his two brothers. When they tried to cross [a river] … they were all washed away but the other two managed to get [out] of the water to safety while Nhlanhla and his horse were washed away. The next day the horse was found dead about 2km away from where they were swept away. His lifeless body was found not too far from where his horse was,” said Nhlanhla’s uncle, FanaNkosi.
In Msholozi village, outside Mbombela, Julius Radingwana lost his wife of 26 years, Joana, 44. Radingwana said he was in Limpopo and had to drive the whole night to Mpumalanga after he got the call explaining that his wife was missing.
“I will always remember my wife as my dearest friend and my humble soul mate, my comforter and partner since our high school years,” said Radingwana.
Sikhulile Mavuso, who saw Joana being washed away, said they were crossing a river on their way back home from work when it happened.
“The water was so strong we waited for two women who were behind us to get closer to us. Moments later Radingwana was screaming for help. We couldn’t help her. We tried looking in the direction [of the screams] … the water was flowing but we could not find her,” said Mavuso.