George municipality’s response to tragedy a lesson in humanity

A week after the George building collapse, rescue and recovery efforts continue at the site
STILL SEARCHING: A week after the George building collapse, rescue and recovery efforts continue at the site

Last Monday, a horrific incident occurred in George, where an apartment building collapsed while under construction.

There were 81 construction workers on site, 24 of whom have sadly perished as of this Monday.

At least 13 workers have been hospitalised and 28 remain unaccounted for, still trapped under the rubble.

Rescue operations are still ongoing but with every passing day, survival is slipping from those who are still trapped.

Local and provincial governments have been pooling in resources to assist in the rescue efforts.

Additionally, the minister of police, Bheki Cele, spent this past Sunday visiting families of the victims to offer his support on behalf of the national government.

The media is also playing its part by keeping the country updated on the developments, making sure to keep the story alive and asking the right questions.

When the rescue operation is completed, many questions are going to have to be answered, particularly by the developers.

There has to be accountability so that the victims of this horror can get justice — and so that such a tragedy never happens again.

But while we are all grief-stricken by the deaths of so many workers and the reality that the death toll will likely rise, there’s something that we must pay attention to — the conduct of the George municipality.

There are many lessons for other municipalities, provinces and national governments to learn from how the George municipality is handling this disaster.

Three of these lessons stand out to me.

The first is a lesson on transparency and communication.

Since the collapse occurred, the municipality has sustained open communication with the public, providing updates on the rescue efforts as they unfold.

In doing this, the municipality has given all of us a sense that government is working hard to bring this nightmare to an end.

When government takes people into its confidence, it creates an environment of calmness and rationality because we can make sense of the developments in real time, allaying our fears.

Fear breeds mistrust, which in turn sets parameters for problems such as the spread of misinformation.

By being transparent, the George municipality has ensured this does not happen.

The second lesson the George municipality is teaching us is the importance of humanity.

This was especially pronounced in its media statement released on Sunday.

An excerpt of the statement reads: “We urgently call for professional psychosocial support practitioners proficient in Chewa, Portuguese, and Shona languages to assist survivors and their families ...”

This is a statement loaded with true humanity. Chewa, Portuguese and Shona are not official languages of SA.

They are national languages of our neighbouring countries. This implies that a significant number of workers are foreign nationals of African origin.

In a country where this is a vulnerable group that is usually on the receiving end of xenophobia and Afrophobic violence, this level of humanity is especially commendable.

The George municipality, by seeking psychosocial support for foreign nationals, is communicating that their lives are of value and that they matter. It is humanising them.

The third lesson, linked to the second, is the importance the George municipality is placing on the mental, emotional, spiritual and social needs of the workers.

SA is a country defined by many forms of violence and trauma that are never treated.

Very little attention is ever paid to mental health pathologies that arise as a result of traumatic events and experiences.

By prioritising psychosocial services for the workers, the George municipality is demonstrating its commitment to helping the survivors and their families cope with this devastating incident.

These are important lessons that other municipalities and government in general must learn and apply when dealing with disasters.

There are many elements of governing well and this is the perfect example.

For this, the George municipality must be commended.


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