The same storm which brought torrential rain as well as tremendous damage to the city of Cape Town and its environs this past Wednesday, dropped all its rain there and became dry as it made its destructive path eastwards towards areas already parched by prolonged drought.
Fanned by heavy winds, the fires which destroyed many homes in the southern Cape this week are mostly under control now but left swathes of damage and several lost lives in their wake, including a young family with their three year old son who were overcome by smoke inhalation, as well as a brave firefighter who died doing his utmost to save others.
Never in South Africa’s long and often turbulent history have so many people stood together and offered their unconditional love and support for the victims in the affected areas who in many instances have lost virtually all.
There’s so much already there or on its way from businesses, service organizations and individuals – everything from extra firefighters, doctors and vets to food, pet food, medical supplies, clothing, blankets, toiletries, cash and much more.
It’s a pity that it’s a tragedy such as this which tends to bring out the best in people.
There were the odd twitter trolls with nothing but venom to spew, but according to Tolkien’s The Hobbit, trolls cannot survive even a moment of sunlight without being turned to stone. The light of compassion burned brighter than that of the greedy flames, while at the same time neutralizing the would-be trolls with its message of love and positivity.
There was a tiny band of losers who wanted to turn it into a race war, but they were overwhelmed by the hurricane of love and hope which emerged from the farthest corners of the country even before the last devouring tongue of flame was quenched.
Dogs and cats can’t distinguish colours in the way we do. Maybe we need to learn a thing or two from our humble best friends so we can be truly colourblind in our hearts which is where it matters. After all our blood is all the same colour.
The idyllic Knysna (Population approximately 77 000), situated on a picturesque coastal lagoon and several surrounding villages were the worst hit and hundreds of homes and buildings in the area were destroyed.
Some very close friends of mine, who have been very good to me, were immensely fortunate: they managed to save their house which sustained only minor damage. My friend returned from the evacuation area just in time to see the place catch fire and with the help of some neighbours, managed against all odds to contain the greedy flames which were looking for any chance to take hold.
Many of their friends and neighbours were less fortunate as their suburb was among the worst hit by the towering flames. Luckily they, together with their beloved dogs and cats are safe and well.
The situation is still chaotic due to burned infrastructure which resulted in loss of power, landline telephone lines and cell phone reception making it tough to communicate with the usual immediacy we are all so used to.
To make matters even worse the severe drought has made water supplies critically low. The area is usually very well watered and the name even means “place of ferns” referring to the numerous plants of that type in the area.
The Knysna Forest Marathon and Half Marathon will still be taking place as scheduled in a month’s time and the organizers are among numerous groups who have turned an unimaginably awful incident into an opportunity to raise funds for victims.
But the physical and emotional scars of the runaway fires will take a long time to heal. Imagine being confronted at the dead of night or early morning by the crackle of fast moving flames and hearing explosions as assorted gas canisters explode, and the frenzied howling of frightened dogs. Imagine the helplessness as you watch beautiful homes collapse into rubble.
Put yourself in the place of the less fortunate shanty dwellers watching as their meagre possessions are consumed, knowing that they don’t even have the security which insurance offers those who can afford it.
And then you’re told to grab what you can and buses come to take you to special evacuation areas, not knowing if your house or shack will be standing when you’re able to return.
In the case of Knysna there were three such designated places of safety where anxious residents waited out the infernal assault.
I’d like to share this link from someone who went through the hellish scenario and survived:
The animals have not been forgotten – numerous dogs, cats horses and other pets were found and taken to the sanctuary of the SPCA in a nearby town to the west.
Other places affected by the raging infernos were the town of Plettenberg Bay to the east, a popular summer holiday destination, as well as areas abutting Humansdorp and outlying regions of Port Elizabeth.
Aussies are all too familiar with bushfires and can attest to their destructive power, but South Africans are not quite as used to it. But they have been tested by fire and emerged strong and resilient.
The messages of love and support are growing by the minute on this Twitter feed:
The horror hasn’t ended as yet: this afternoon a well known private school situated amid beautiful surroundings overlooking a deep valley 40 km from Port Elizabeth burned down as a result of the rampant fires:
Fortunately all the learners were evacuated timeously and are in safe hands.
There are many hazards in this world, from both natural disasters and man made sources such as terrorism, but wherever you are in the “global village” we call our home, remember we are all part of the solution to any adversity, and can make a small difference to any situation which may arise.
The process of rebuilding will take time. But the building of bridges and not walls is just as important to our collective wellbeing.