It is just over a month since the devastating floods in KwaZulu Natal, but the suffering does not stop. This tragedy hit very hard across all the communities it impacted and while billions of rands in damage have been tallied, the loss of life and massive human-suffering knock-on effect from the catastrophe is immeasurable. Disaster management teams and rescue workers, whose sole purpose is to help and rescue others, carry their own personal scars as they recall what may be the most heart wrenching search and rescue mission.
Ivor Rimmer reflects with profound sensitivity on the personal experience and the pain deeply shared by SARZA volunteers in action with other rescuers and medical staff at the scene during the KwaZulu Natal tragedy.
At the call from the National Disaster Command Centre, Search and Rescue South Africa (SARZA) volunteers from across the country rallied to attend to the flood-stricken area. After an emotional ten-day stint helping survivors find safety and shelter, while bringing the bodies of men, women and children who perished out of the wreckages, Rimmer recalls this as the most traumatic event in his more than twenty years of service as a leader in the Search and Rescue national ranks.
“The number of fatalities still rising, more than 435 people lost their lives, some are still missing. More than 40 000 others are materially and very severely impacted. Bringing bodies of victims out of the rubble and debris, from under the mudslides leaves deep scars in the heart of rescue team members – and this is what the numbers do not tell.”
Volunteer search and rescue groups are made up of every day garden variety people who have a calling for the preservation of life and a humanitarian mission to help people in distress. “We rise every morning like every other person and go to work, but when the call comes for a search and rescue mission we jump into action and morph. We work with military precision and unwavering commitment in the process of ensuring the search and rescue mission is accomplished.”
The relevance of trained Search and Rescue teams continues to grow, as the unpredictability of climate conditions across the world is increasingly felt. “SARZA is fortunate to have welcomed new young members across all our provincial branches, this young force allowed us to make an important contribution to the KZN search and rescue task.” In many ways, the SARZA team consider themselves to be a fraternity, “our lives depend on effective and efficient team work, we have built up kinship among our members that keeps us all safe when we’re in the field”.
SARZA works in close collaboration with the official forces and other rescue organisations under the direction of the Disaster Management centre and brings in its own set of expertise with their thoroughly trained volunteers, “training and development of our members is critical to the outcomes and the preservation of life”.
When one officer perishes, we all mourn. Sergeant Busisiswe Mjwara, Pietermaritzburg search and rescue police officer, and SAPS K9 Police dog, Leah, who attempted to pull the Sergeant out of a rapidly flowing stream is our loss and devastating to the fraternity. They gave their lives in search of flood victims in the Henley Dam area. Sergeant Busisiswe Mjwara, Police Dog Leah – WE SALUTE YOU!
“It is hard to describe how poignant it is to watch South Africans pull together in such heart-breaking times says Ivor. People and organisations, like Gift of the Givers and SA national firefighting teams, from around the country joined to help a community in need with resources, rescue and disaster relief aid. “We are a people that join hands and stand together in times of crisis, even with limited resources, our communities are strong because we are fundamentally bound by the value of unity and our deeply rooted sense of empathy”.
Founded on the values of trust, respect, passion, altruism, the SARZA team have emphasised the importance of young South Africans taking heed of the positive and important impact their involvement in community-based projects can have, especially as the country battles the economic, social and political consequences of a number of catastrophic events that have taken South Africa metaphorically and literally by storm in the last few years.
In the words of Abhijit Naskar,“A nation’s worth lies not in the value of its currency, but in the character of its people.”
Infiniti Insurance Limited refers to SARZA as their partner organisation in humanity – evoking the international Red Cross. Chief Executive Sharon Paterson says “Climate instability makes it ever more pressing for business to work in partnership with and support initiatives such as Search and Rescue South Africa. We stand by SARZA, inspired by their formidable spirit of commitment to protecting life and limb.
“SARZA is made up of highly trained volunteers who mobilise at a moment’s notice to assist in an emergency; travelling miles, fighting the elements at all hours of the day and night and they do this at their own personal cost and expense. They inspire us all, enabling the spirit of the Infiniti brand to be actively present and involved, to stand up. It is for all of these reasons that Infiniti is a principal sponsor of SARZA.”
The spirit of our Nation has, in many respects, been seriously injured. “There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about”, Margaret Wheatley. We are witness to a time of great loss. The KZN flooding has been yet another incident of tragedy for our nation. The SARZA team will continue, as it has, in its steady efforts to protect communities across the country and beyond, by showing up and joining hands so that others may live!
Infiniti Insurance Limited is an A-(ZA)-rated non-life insurer that writes all classes of business including Aviation, Marine, Watercraft, Engineering, Heavy Commercial Vehicles, Liability and Guarantees. The Infiniti advantage lies in the quality of our service and our commitment to excellence.