All Photo Credit to Makayla McGarvey
The Knysna Fires have wreaked havoc and destruction across the town and the entire landscape. In times of great trouble, the community has shown an inner strength, and a desire to rebuild quickly and to the best of their ability. Whilst jobs, homes and livelihoods have been lost, the community has stood together, reaching from all corners of the world. Many travellers have fond memories of time spent here. There are locals who have moved away, such as popular YouTuber Caspar Lee. His appeal to his 4.59M twitter followers earned £15,000 – a rough R244, 000 in local currency.
Whilst the fires have become known for the obliteration of Knynsa, they also stretched across the Garden Route, as far as Great Brak to Plettenberg Bay. In Knysna alone, 846 houses were annihilated, with 307 suffering a degree of damage. Knysna is a tourist haven, known for its beauty and the festivals that bring the crowds flocking. Now, the town needs support more than ever in their quest to re-build.
Next month will see the annual Oyster Festival, attracting thousands. An official statement released by the festival stated, ‘Following the devastating Knysna Fires, a decision has been made that the Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival will go ahead. Knysna needs your support. Please come to Knysna and support the festival events and our local businesses so that we can start to rebuild our town. Knysna is open for business and the beauty of the region remains and the festival promises to be abuzz with fun, food, and drink for the full 10 days.’
Gaby Serfontein, volunteer in the wake of the fires stated, ‘the Oyster Festival has always been a bit of a point of contention with the locals because they get a lot of outside traders instead of giving preference to the local traders. The locals that are still here and still producing crafty products are going to need that extra source of income.’ Thinking of what the festival could do to help, Serfontein suggested, ‘They need to give them (the locals) the stalls for free or at an incredibly discounted price.’
Her main concern is with accommodation much of which was burnt down in the fires. Outside guests tend to think a lot less of the water restrictions in place, showering often. Knysna’s dam has only a couple of weeks’ worth of water left. Serfontein concluded,’ Most people aren’t even interested locally in the Oyster Festival. If they can raise funds for those who have lost their homes then by all means, but it is putting pressure on the town.’
Social Media Support
She did however agree with the support flowing in from social media. Using the hashtag #KnysnaRises there are pledges of aid streaming in from all over the world. Launched by the Knysna Tourist Board last Thursday, it has rapidly become a symbol of hope for the community. Luke Waltham, a South African blogger with a strong twitter following posted, ‘There is hope for Knysna! The people unite to rebuild and restore their town and community. #KnysnaRises like a Phoenix. Knysna will rise from the ashes.’ He goes on to thank the Western Cape Government and the Knysna Municipality.
The Municipality has introduced a new way to create awareness of the town’s regrowth by introducing Green Friday. Working through True Colours, the aim is help Knysna get its green back. Wearing green each Friday is designed to encourage re-growth and have people thinking about the ways they can help. Residents are working on keeping their wildlife safe. With fruit and water left on trees to encourage the animals back, it’s hoped that the greenery will return.
It’s clear from the messages on social media that the best way to support the Knysna families is to support activities that will raise money for locals. Speaking to Busi Sithole, of Khanyisile Arts and Crafts, she speaks of her fears that tourists will now stay away. A business such as hers depends on the tourism trade and whilst some locals don’t agree with the festivals, for Sithole they bring potential customers.
If a local business can be supported and rebuilt, then they can work on re-building homes, this time with an environmental plan in mind. As Knsyna’s entire disaster management plan is changed to improve for the future, this time the environment will be considered.
For the most part, the Tourism Board is determined to act business as usual. August will see the Forest Run, based in Mother Holly Tea Garden. The 26 estimated fires have destroyed Knysna’s forests. Catching on quickly due to the drought, emergency services were praised for their effectiveness. Yet the clear up will take many months. 500 jobs have been created to help those who became unemployed, and have the aim to get the community moving forward. The Forest Run this year has promised to raise funds.
The company, Plascon have approached the Tourism Board with their own ‘message of hope.’ The company wanted to tell residents, especially those who had lost homes, that the fire was behind them and there was hope for better, brighter future. Murals have been painted to instill this message, with bright primary colours and the Knysna Tourism’s hashtag #KnysnaRises.
To see the full support the town has, simply type the hashtag on twitter. Thousands of results appear within seconds. Social Cohesion Advocate, Yusuf Abramjee tweeted, ‘Let us all make Knysna rise! Let’s hold hands, work together and rise from the ashes. We will!’ Paired with photos of the devastation left behind, the scores of those affected is an emotional read. What cannot be forgotten are those who lost lives, as well as homes and jobs. Seven fatalities were recorded including a small boy, a family of three and a 63-year-old man.
Mayor of Knysna, Eleanore Bouw-Spies was quoted to Eyewitness News as saying, ‘We will have to rise and rebuild this town to even better than it was before.’
The image of a phoenix is a fitting one for Knysna. Burning in flames, it is re-born and will eventually show its exquisite beauty. Knysna is a jewel on the Garden Route and a well-known slice of paradise in South Africa. It is hoped that soon, Knysna will be able to place its troubles behind them.