Knysna disaster unites South Africa

 

South Africa has seen epic disasters. Probably one of the worst natural disasters in the country’s history, hit the greater Knysna area earlier this month.

Amidst the heartbreaking pain and destruction caused by the devastating fires, one thing stood out like a lighthouse in stormy weather – South Africans have incredibly good hearts. In times of a disaster like this one – so shocking that it begs description – South Africans can ignore glaring divisions and unite as one.

The compassion we encountered in Knysna when Caxton Community Newspapers sent a team of reporters to the disaster area, was so heart-warming that words can’t do it justice. From the moment South Africans heard about the community’s huge loss, they rallied and went out of their way to help where they could. The incredible goodwill was apparent from the tonnes and tonnes of food and provisions that started arriving in Knysna soon after the news hit the wires and we arrived in town.

Kindness and generosity prevailed. Hearts opened. Tears were shed in compassion. People were welcomed into the homes of strangers. The care and empathy were palpable.

Extra firemen, doctors, nurses and vets arrived in town from all over the country to assist where they could. A single mother made meals for more than five hundred people every day, singlehandedly. She didn’t expect anything in return.

People spoke quietly about their loss and lost their composure because it was so painful. They were holding on to their grandchildren – babies snatched up before the fire could get to them – too scared to let them out of their sight, too traumatised to lose anything else.

Some of the survivors spoke guardedly about feeling guilty. They felt they did not have the right to entertain their losses because they and their loved ones are still alive. ‘Some people lost their nearest and dearest. We only lost our home’.

At local community centres where some homeless survivors found temporary reprieve, little groups huddled together, united in their pain. Their faces looked gaunt, their eyes were empty. The room felt like a sepulchre.

Most of the survivors were still wearing the clothes they wore when we met them the first day we arrived in Knysna.

We could all go home when the mopping up operations started. For the affected people in Knysna and surrounding areas, the impact will undoubtedly linger much longer.

* Seven people died in the Knysna fire and more than 10 000 people have been left homeless.

  AUTHOR
Ingrid Pepler

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