Knysna municipality describes mop-up efforts after fires

The municipal manager agrees that there is a need for more focused communication with the affected people.

Almost two months since the epic disaster that hit Knysna, one of the most frequently asked questions from residents has been and remains to be about donations – material and financial – reports the Knysna-Plett Herald.

Where did they come from? Where are they going? Are the right people receiving relief? Who is coordinating the relief effort? These were just some of the questions asked repeatedly.

Here the municipality responds.

‘Muni in a rebuild phase’

The greater Knysna Municipal area is still reeling from the shock of the recent fires that cut a swath of destruction throughout the province. “This catastrophe will help to develop the strength and resolve we need to face its aftermath,” said Mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies.

“This has been a reminder that we cannot escape the tragedies that arise in our lives,” she continued.

“We search for reasons, but it is difficult to answer that question we’ve all asked ourselves: why did this happen to us? Nobody knows. But this disaster has once again shown us how strong we are as a people and as a community.”

Municipal manager Kam Chetty added that losing everything one owns amounts to gross personal trauma and a deep sense of helplessness.

“Despite the profound losses, the resilience shown by the Knysna community is extraordinary, and is a reflection of the human spirit. More importantly, the unprecedented spirit of ubuntu must be applauded and embraced in the rebuilding of Knysna.

“The challenges facing the municipality is colossal and the urgency to get back to normality is insistent. Now more than ever, we need the community of Knysna to work in harmony and to demonstrate the spirit of ubuntu in rebuilding Knysna.

“The need for reconstruction aid to support the rebuilding efforts are considerable and includes skills, technical expertise, financial resources, and mutual support. The municipality continues to develop processes and programmes to facilitate the rebuilding efforts within its constraints and is grateful to the Knysna community and other South Africans who have and continue to volunteer their services,” said Chetty.

Municipal manager Kam Chetty said he has been struck by the extraordinary resilience shown by the Knysna community. Picture: Knysna-Plett Herald

Municipal manager Kam Chetty said he has been struck by the extraordinary resilience shown by the Knysna community. Picture: Knysna-Plett Herald

Aid received
“During the first two weeks immediately after the fire we experienced an unprecedented willingness to assist the Knysna community with emergency aid,” said Bouw-Spies.

Numerous organisations assisted in both raising and distributing aid that was divided into food parcels, water, clothing, toiletries, necessities for infants, mattresses and blankets. The municipality assisted with providing collection centres at Spring Street and Woodmill Walk, Knysna. From here, this aid was distributed to municipal distribution points at:

  • Hornlee civic centre
  • Concordia High School
  • Brenton community hall
  • Sedgefield town hall
  • Chris Nissen High School hall
  • Khayalethu hall
  • Brenton-on-Sea community hall,
  • Knysna Vineyard church
  • Methodist church

‘More systematic approach’

“We are sincerely grateful to the many organisations – NGOs and private entities – for their assistance. Given the scale of the response and the efforts of the numerous people and organisations – it was impossible in the aftermath of the disaster to coordinate the numerous efforts of receiving and distributing relief.

“As such, the municipality relies on the governance and accountability of each organisation to ensure that the aid that they provided is effectively managed,” said Chetty.

“A more systematic approach to distributing aid will be employed going forward,” explained Bouw-Spies.

“The mandate of managing this aspect of a crisis like this falls to the department of social development (DSD). The results of our surveys are being vetted to determine exactly what aid is required by whom. This information, along with the aid this municipality has received, will be handed to the DSD or their appointed agent. The DSD will then set up the necessary infrastructure and coordinate the relief aid.”

Disaster relief fund

“Of course, we also received monetary donations,” Bouw-Spies confirmed.

“The Knysna Fire Disaster Relief Fund is held in an account with Nedbank, and none of this has been spent yet.”

In its resolution dated June 15, the Knysna council unanimously resolved that the municipal manager be appointed as the accounting officer of this fund and the associated bank account. Chetty along with CFO Mbulelo Memani are the signatories on this account and both signatories are required to authorise any withdrawals.

The fund currently has R1.3-million and is earmarked for the post-disaster reconstruction.

“Our initial estimates suggest that the cost of rehabilitating infrastructure is R113-million (this excludes a further R30-million for environmental damage),” said Bouw-Spies.

“A business fund will be established, to receive and manage private financial donations on behalf of Knysna. The governance of this fund will include highly experienced people in Knysna, and other financial experts.”

Bouw-Spies assured residents that, while this is a private initiative, every aspect of the management of this fund and its associated spend will be made public on an ongoing basis.

“Regular reports of funds received and the status of its implementation will be available on an ongoing, updated basis.”

Excluded from the fund

  • The money made available to the province by the Western Cape Cabinet. “The Western Cape government’s R75-million has been earmarked to address the damage caused throughout the entire province. This includes the entire Garden Route and extended areas affected by the fire, as well as the areas ravaged by the storm that raged throughout the Cape while we burned. This fund will target the rehabilitation of provincial infrastructure across the province damaged through the disasters,” said Bouw-Spies.
  • “We are also aware that numerous private and nongovernmental organisations have raised finance for projects and programmes that these organisations are implementing. Again, we welcome these independent initiatives and urge these organisations to share the information on these programmes with the municipality in an effort to coordinate the rebuild efforts,” the mayor said.

Waiver of fees

“With hundreds of houses having been devoured by the flames, many of our residents are already looking at rebuilding their homes,” Bouw-Spies continued.

“We must help you in your brave efforts to restore what you have lost. As such, we have waived certain building-related fees.

“We do realise that many residents have many questions regarding the processes of demolition and rebuilding. A full-service help desk will be opened on the ground floor of the municipal building at 3 Church Street, next to the magistrate’s court. Residents with any related questions are urged to make use of this facility.”

Council has resolved to waive fees under the following items of the tariffs list:

  • 4.5 (connection fees)
  • 5.3 – 5.6 of the tariffs list
  • 5.11 (new connections)
  • 7.10 (swimming pool backwash)
  • 15.3.2 (hoarding rental)
  • 15.1 – 15.3 (excluding additions and alterations)

Any landowner of a property who suffered damages as a result of the fire qualifies for the waiving of these fees, for approved building standards. For more information on these items of the tariff list, please visit the helpdesk in Church Street between 9am and 3pm.

Site clearing

Rubble without asbestos:
Rebuilding requires cleaning existing sites. Garden waste may be deposited at the Old Place garden refuse site, free of charge. Building rubble may currently be disposed of at the private sites at Harkerville or Blaricum Heights, Simola. Disposal fees are R25 (plus VAT) per cubic meter and R40 (plus VAT) per LDV load. Mixed loads will be sorted at R325 per cubic meter.

These facilities are open during the following hours:

  • Monday to Thursday, 7.30am to 4.30pm
  • Friday, 7.30am to 2pm
  • Saturday, 8am to 1pm

Rubble with asbestos:
“Registered asbestos contractors (RAC) are required to meet the occupational health and safety standards before registering with the department of labour,” said Chetty.

“Their operating procedures reduce and can even prevent the generation of asbestos dust. These contractors have processes in place to protect their workers and to limit asbestos contamination of the environment. Please only make use of an RAC when demolishing buildings that contain asbestos, or when removing and disposing of material containing asbestos.

“The following companies are licensed to remove and dispose of this kind of waste, and operate within our region (company name, contact person, telephone number, email address):

• Asbesaway – Kobus, 021-945-2423,

• Drizit Environmental – David Stone, 083-448-8366/021-510-7010,

• Envirologic – Chris Bouwer, 082-737-7378,

• Enviro Tech SA – Duane de Lange, 083-264-5289,

• Ikar: asbestos removal – Ivan Coetzer, 071-360-5857,

• Industec – Hugo Kotze, 083-654-4274/011-826-3991, /

• Interwaste – 011-323-7300, /


Chetty indicated that he is aware that some residents are having problems resolving their insurance claims.

“My office will invite the relevant ombudsman to visit Knysna to assist with these challenges. We will create a platform where affected parties may raise their issues and concerns with him, so that these may be resolved. Please watch the press and our social networking platforms for more information.”


Chetty agreed that there is a need for more focused communication with the affected people.

“I am planning on hosting face-to-face focus groups where I will meet with groups of affected persons,” he said.

“It is important that I meet with those who have been affected, and that I hear their stories first hand. That I listen to their needs and their ideas in reconstructing Knysna.

“The municipality sent out several communiques during the fires. These were sent via numerous communication channels that include, but are not limited to, SMS, social media, the municipal app, loud hailing, radio and television.

Information was disseminated each half hour via social media and our app, daily press releases were issued to local and national media, daily press conferences were hosted and various radio and television interviews were conducted to ensure that the public was kept abreast with the latest developments.

“We will continue to improve our communications with the Greater Knysna community, starting with the series of meetings with the affected households. I am looking forward to meeting with those affected. Dates, times and venues of these focus groups will be confirmed and communicated via the media,” said Chetty.

Caxton News Service



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