Yadhana Jadoo
3 minute read
22 Jun 2017
5:40 am

Just another shack fire and the Knysna narrative

Yadhana Jadoo

If anything, the Knysna devastation has shown who, in our own minds, is more important.

Residents of an informal settlement in Denver, Johannesburg remove belongings from their shacks as a fire rages through them, 6 November 2014. Picture Neil McCartney

Sitting at a bakery in Dunkeld, chomping away on an R34 Cornish pasty while absorbing the surroundings of the well-off, my eyes drifted to a man carrying a rubbish bag.

With a sign on his back reading “I keep this area clean, please donate”, he moved around the parking lot purposefully, picking up the small amount of rubbish around a path.

I walk into the fishmonger next door and eye out the R1 500 lobster. It’s almost the size of my arm. Walking out with a whole fish for R100, I spot the car guard but have no change to hand to him. He smiles at me anyway.

Somewhat privileged and with salmon trout in hand, I thought about the fact that R100 would have gone a long way for him.

This month, devastating fires shattered the community of the charming seaside town of Knysna. Residences, including holiday homes, went up in flames and beautiful forests were ravaged. A family perished.

Without hesitation, people rallied together and almost instantly the art of giving took over. Truckloads of supplies left Johannesburg, while a radio show host asked for contributions for “our brothers and sisters in Knysna”.

From blankets to toothpaste, various offerings were made to alleviate the situation. Corporates came on board and a popular restaurant chain set up shop in town, offering food. Top banks contributed a whopping R10 million.

The question of insurance quickly became a hot topic, with one broker claiming that their systems were able to deal with the large amounts of claims, amounting to billions, due to the traumatic event.

After the fires, a relative of mine, whose organisation had embarked on rehabilitating boreholes for communities around KwaZulu-Natal, discussed the reasons for giving with me a few nights ago. Referring to the borehole project, she told me how, without batting an eyelid, people emptied their pockets to give. A total of R250 000 was raised – because it costs that much to rehabilitate a borehole. You did not hear about this project through the media because it was not covered.

With water now available for communities, not only were schools able to function but subsistence farming could take place to ensure children didn’t go hungry.

In Hinduism, Seva is the selfless service of giving in the interest of another and expecting nothing in return. And in Knysna, the people of South Africa were practising Seva at its finest.

But dishearteningly, we don’t always give.

The Knysna narrative, as I have dubbed it, became a talking point, with people questioning why when thousands are left homeless or die in shack fires, it isn’t given as much attention as it should.

“It started with a candle”, we are told by disaster management more often than not.

For those who don’t know, a candle was used because there is no electricity, the primus stove is used for cooking and heating and those in these dwellings definitely don’t qualify for, nor can they afford, insurance.

When hearing about shack fires, ask yourself, how often do we donate? How often do we see people assemble to offer relief?

The answer is almost never. Seva goes out the window when what we see is just another shack fire. If anything, the Knysna devastation has shown who, in our own minds, is more important. And that is without a doubt double standards at its most glaring.

Yadhana Jadoo

Yadhana Jadoo