Deaf­en­ing si­lence as Knysna calls for help

Na­tional gov­ern­ment ig­nores mul­ti­ple ap­peals for as­sis­tance

Cape Argus - - NEWS - Ja­son Felix

PROP­ERTY own­ers and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists in Knysna have slammed the gov­ern­ment for fail­ing to re­spond to re­quests for ur­gent fund­ing fol­low­ing the dev­as­tat­ing fires in the town ear­lier this year.

Cobus Meir­ing from the South­ern Cape Landown­ers Ini­tia­tive says landown­ers in Knysna and Plet­ten­berg Bay are con­cerned about the lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion by na­tional gov­ern­ment with re­gard to sev­eral ap­pli­ca­tions for fund­ing, fol­low­ing the fires that rav­aged large parts of the town.

“Landown­ers and con­ser­va­tion bod­ies share the con­cern that the fires will trig­ger the un­prece­dented spread of in­va­sive alien plants, and leave thou­sands of hectares of dead trees stand­ing through­out the land­scape,” Meir­ing said.

“Thus far, in­quiries to the au­thor­i­ties have gone unan­swered, and lo­cal landown­ers are in­creas­ingly wor­ried that, with­out in­ter­ven­tion, they will have to take full re­spon­si­bil­ity for man­ag­ing the ef­fects of the fire as sum­mer ap­proaches in full swing,” he said.

The En­vi­ron­men­tal Work­ing Group, one of sev­eral Gar­den Route Re­build Ini­tia­tive work­ing groups, made sev­eral ap­pli­ca­tions to na­tional gov­ern­ment for en­vi­ron­men­tal re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

The Western Cape gov­ern­ment re­cently gave R75m in re­lief for the com­mu­ni­ties to help re­build the af­fected ar­eas.

The money is be­ing used for roads, schools, agri­cul­ture and hu­man set­tle­ments that were af­fected by the ad­verse weather and fire.

A large num­ber of dev­as­tat­ing fires – which were mainly around Knysna and Plet­ten­berg Bay – swept through the re­gion over the past three weeks, leav­ing a trail of de­struc­tion.

The fires saw about 5 000 res­i­dents flee their homes, de­stroyed about 700 homes and other struc­tures, killed seven peo­ple and burnt through more than 20 000ha of land.

The town’s econ­omy has taken a knock, with about 2 500 jobs – mostly in the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try – af­fected in about 90 busi­nesses, largely in the ac­com­mo­da­tion sec­tor, with 33% com­pletely de­stroyed, 38% of them not cov­ered by in­sur­ance.

Ja­nine My­burgh, pres­i­dent of the Cape Cham­ber, said the pre­vi­ously es­ti­mated cost of the dam­age – be­tween R3 bil­lion and R4bn – was likely to in­crease, tak­ing into ac­count dam­age to unin­sured prop­erty.

“Many landown­ers al­ready ex­pressed con­cerns that they will not be able to af­ford, and there­fore can­not con­tain, the ag­gres­sive ap­pear­ance of in­va­sive alien plants and trees on their land,” Meir­ing said.

The na­tional Trea­sury did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment, say­ing it would do so as soon as pos­si­ble. May­ihlome Tsh­wete, spokesper­son for Fi­nance Min­is­ter Malusi Gi­gaba, did not re­spond to e-mails.

PIC­TURE: EPA

DE­STRUC­TION: Noth­ing much is left of this house af­ter a rag­ing bush fire swept through Knysna in June.

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