Winter Tornado in Tlholong, Eastern Free State of South Africa.
Thursday past was overcast, Friday, it rained gently all day, harder on Saturday. In the early evening of Saturday, a short, but almost frightening burst of hail, loud in our kitchen. Then a power outage.
In the (previously) Black township next door (who said that Apartheid is dead? things change slowly) a natural disaster: a small but powerful tornado (I've been too busy to research the details) tore across a number of houses, ripped prevalently corrugated iron roof sheeting away - the few tiled roofs weren't spared - and seems to have vented its fury on the tall power poles, dropping cables across extremely inconvenient passageways.
Two large water tanks (empty, I suppose, the local water supply is a bit erratic) were ripped from their moorings and dumped in the street.
All very incovenient: it takes a lot of effort for people living in poverty to rebuild their homes, it was fortunate that no one was apperently even injured, but there will be homeless people and even the best efforts by the authorities to attend to the electrical and water supplies will take a fair bit of time.
It is cold in this area - we are at around 1700m above sea level - in winter, so the prospect of being homeless in a small (less than 10000 people) rural town can be quite daunting. Also, there are many children involved and they would naturally be less resistant to exposure to low temperatures. This is a summer rainfall region, so at least the rain will be an unlikely contributor to these people's misery.
The local authorities have shown their concern, although the competence of all parties involved (Municipal Disaster Management and Provincial Social Welfare) can be questioned because of the misguided policies of the political party in power. I managed to gather a significant, if somewhat small group of people to be addressed by the Social Welfare representative - not a trivial task as I don't speak the local vernacular (seSotho), which also means that I don't know what the outcome of the discussion might have been. I was a little mystified that the representative seemed to have plenty to say, but did not solicit much input.
In summary, though, the small, poor community of Tlholong is not in dire straits. There has been a lot of physical damage and in my opinion this event will not trigger the building of either character or communal spirit in addition to that which is already in place, But they will come through not much worse than they would have had the tornado not struck.
It is not clear how outsiders may be able to help. More than anything else, all small rural communities in South Africa seem to need protection against what Moeletsi Mbeki (brother of South Africa's deposed second president) called in the eponymous book "Architects of Poverty": the people they democratically elected to lead them. In my opinion, providing each member of these communities, but especially the very young ones, with better access to information (Internet access and community radio are my preferences, both a touch above their own means, individually and as a community) as well as much better educators would be a massive step forward.
Naturally, any assistance will be welcome, I will gladly correspond with anyone who may be willing to contribute in any way. Others in the community can be co-opted to provide information, but their access to electronic media is much more restricted.