Small businesses count costs after devastating floods

As Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal‘s far midlands counts the devastating cost of floods which left a trail of destruction, small businesses have also been left in a bad shape.

Last straw

Entrepreneur Cebolenkosi Dube said the floods hit at a time his business was not doing well.

Dube, the owner of a laundry business located in the city centre, said the Monday floods were the last straw.

“Running a business in this town is no longer viable especially for the small business owner. The laundry equipment is very expensive. When floods hit, I’m forced to take my dryers and washing machines for service at a hefty cost. I had just bought new equipment which was damaged during the Christmas Eve floods and everything was ruined when the floods hit us again on Sunday and Monday,” said Dube.

Business is special

Dube said he established the business four years ago through a bank loan and it had a sentimental value to his heart, since it had been dream since he was as a teenager.

“It was taking a heavy mental and financial toll on me and it was also affecting my marriage. As painful as it is still today, I had to grudgingly accept that it was over. All my hard work, sweat and tears came to naught,” he said.

This week’s floods hit while the town under the Alfred Duma municipality had just emerged from another wave of floods which had claimed several lives on Christmas eve. Scores of people had to be evacuated from the central business district and placed in places of safety as the water levels threatened both lives and infrastructure.

Laying off staff

Another small business owner Sonto Magubane, who runs two restaurants in the CBD explained that he had to let go of five people he had employed to assist her.

“Operating costs have ballooned because of the frequent floods. I had to let go of five of my employees because I was struggling to pay them. The entire city is a flood plain. One day, we would wake up and find out that the whole city is swallowed,” she warned.

Flooding is a historical issue

Flooding has been a problem for the town which is located in the province’s far midlands and serves as a gateway to KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

At the heart of the problem is its peculiar location in the uThukela catchment, in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains. During 1987 and 1988, it was flooded on three separate occasions and extensive damage was caused to residences and businesses.

The worst flooding in 30 years occurred in 1996. It led to R500 million in damages and the evacuation of 400 families. Several solutions have been put in place to tame the Klip River as a way of managing floods.

Apart from Ladysmith, the Monday floods have also hit the areas of uMsinga, Dundee and Pietermaritzburg.

The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) said it was concerned by the recent floods.

“The loss of lives, damage to substantial infrastructure, the displacement of vulnerable communities and significant economic losses, come at a time when households and business in the province and the country face hardships because of economic stagnation,” said SALGA provincial chairperson Thami Ntuli.

The organisation called for urgent financial support to be made available to rebuild the road network. The funds would also be used for other critical infrastructure which was damaged. 

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