It was surreal going out to sea this week in the hopes of seeing one or two migratory whales pass by. To be on such an immense body of water while our Greater Knysna area still smouldered in the distance seemed to me like some kind of cruel joke. I sat there wishing that I could scoop up some of the water from this deep liquid landscape and douse our parched, burnt terrestrial realm that so desperately needs a good soaking. The Knysna Fires of 2017 will forever be etched in our history.
The two hours spent gazing across the blue expanse afforded me the time to reflect on the events of the past week. It is difficult to string together words that aptly describe the utter devastation and heartache that one of Mother Nature’s most powerful forces unleashed upon our region. Gale force winds fed unbridled fires which swept across our drought riddled landscape. The fires swallowed up large tracts of Knysna and its outlying areas at a speed and scale unmatched in our history. It claimed lives and destroyed hundreds of homes and the worldly possessions they contained.
It incinerated the Featherbed and Pledge Nature Reserves, both iconic natural areas in Knysna; Large areas of the Goukamma Nature Reserve, one of our most celebrated and extraordinary natural assets, have been stripped bare by fire and continue to burn in isolated pockets even as I write this.
But, there is one thing that the fire didn’t claim – an unwavering community spirit. It has in fact strengthened our bonds and has ultimately served to unite us. Amid the chaos, beautiful things are happening all around us: heart-warming acts of bravery, kindness, selflessness, compassion and a whole lot of love. Collectively, this is giving hope to those who have lost everything.
As the ash settles, the reality of the past week is becoming more palpable and we now need to find a way to move forward in the best way possible. Our resilient natural world will flourish once again when good rains finally come. Fire brings new life, and our fynbos and other flora biomes will rejuvenate over time. Perhaps now, authorities will focus on the eradication of highly flammable alien invaders and bring back more of our indigenous vegetation. The time is ripe for positive environmental change.
It is however going to take years for the Greater Knysna Community as a whole to recover from this unprecedented natural disaster. Yesterday we received an email from overseas visitors that have a trip planned to Knysna in the coming weeks. The gentleman expressed a genuine concern about coming to have a rip-roaring good holiday while so many were in mourning. The truth is, we need visitors now more than ever before. Tourism is our region’s primary economic driver. The tourism sector has an organic ripple effect on the economy. Visitors come here to enjoy our regions beauty and many varied pursuits. They need a bed. They need food. They like to shop. Everything is connected.
We now need to work harder than ever to ensure that our economy survives and once again thrives. The Knysna Oyster Festival, one of the biggest events on our annual calendar, is still going ahead. Most of the tourism operators are once again open for business and there are many parts of Greater Knysna that have not been adversely affected by the fire.
Spread the word. Tell the world to come and visit the Greater Knysna area.
The show must go on. Together we can make Knysna great again.