This particular photograph captures a personal assessment visit by President Nelson Mandela (Tata Madiba, as he is affectionately known), President of the Republic of South Africa at the time, on 1 December 1996 to disaster stricken areas in South Cape. I was Minister for Welfare and Population Development at the time.
This formed part of the formal assessment, by government, of the extent of damage in which, “at least two people died after heavy rains fell in the districts of Uniondale, Oudtshoorn, Calitzdorp, Ladismith and George. Both the Olifants and Kammanassie rivers burst their banks leaving a trail of devastation. About 350 households were affected and severe damage caused to personal effects and houses. Approximately 500 farmers suffered loss in terms of infrastructure, livestock and cash crops which also left many seasonal workers unemployed. Agricultural damage amounted to about R73 million. Hundreds of farm workers were also affected in the areas, which in total employ about 140 000 people in the agricultural sector. Most of them suffered loss of income or other damage due to the floods. Farm workers will be given financial assistance on an ex-gratia basis for damage or loss.” (Statement issued by the Ministry of Welfare and Population Development)
Tata Madiba was determined to reach all affected areas, on the Sunday (1 December 1996), as he wanted to hear directly from the communities involved whether farm workers or farmers. It was humbling to see this outreach and witness his concern about the immediate and direct impact of this disaster on the people and communities in the affected areas. He was also greatly concerned about the impact on their livelihoods in the medium and longer term.
We moved from community to community speaking with farm workers and farmers alike listening to them as they described the events that they experienced, sharing their pain, explaining their losses (whether human, property or livestock) and showing us the actual physical destruction. They vividly described the implications for them personally and, in instances, for the broader communities involved.
I was yet again struck by the involvement and engagement of the President Tata Madiba in the detail as so graphically captured in this photograph. (I say, “yet again” as I had the rare privilege of accompanying him to various communities across the country in the course of my work.)
On that Sunday it crossed my mind that he was as formidable as the towering sandstone cliffs of the Swartberg mountain range, in the Meiringspoort area, one of the areas that entered by helicopter, on that Sunday, to reach communities that were cut off by the devastating floods.
As awesome as those sandstone cliffs was the humanity of a remarkable leader and I was in awe by his deep personal concern and depth of engagement with members of these communities, irrespective of their status in society. This occasion, as did other such, further strengthened my commitment to serve, with compassion and resolve.
Quote: "He wanted to hear directly from the communities involved."