Fires damage more than just Knysna's infrastructure
The devastating fires that recently wreaked havoc in large parts of the Southern Cape has subsided, with Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and Bitou the areas that were most affected.
The damage, however, is far from done. An estimated 10 000 people were displaced due to the fires, with damages – including infrastructure – estimated at as much as R4 billion.
According to Prof Melville Saayman from the research unit TREES (Tourism Research in Economic Environs and Society) at the North-West University (NWU), the damage goes beyond the visible.
"It goes without saying that the municipalities should immediately start getting essential services up and running,” says Prof Saayman. “Telecommunications should be the first priority, infrastructure second. An estimated 439 houses were burnt down, in addition to golf courses and clubhouses. The damage is massive, and extensive funds are needed to start the rebuilding process.”
“These funds could have been derived from tourists, but they are most likely to stay away. In addition to the numerous vacation homes that were burnt down, Knysna also follows a 365 festival policy, meaning that there is some form of festival taking place every day. These will now have to be moved, or else they simply can't take place anymore."
Prof Saayman says the government, and especially local authorities, must now focus on projecting a positive image in the fire's aftermath. “That's not saying they should paint over what happened, not at all. Too many people were affected, too many lives were lost. It is sad beyond description, but the rebuilding must start immediately,” he explains.
“One approach would be to launch an awareness campaign about the areas that were affected the most, as well as indicating which areas weren't affected at all. They should also communicate clearly what will be done within a certain timeframe. The damage to infrastructure can be measured, the damage to perceptions not, and it is important that these should be managed as well."
However, Knysna is not alone in facing this dilemma.
"Neighbouring municipalities should also state if and how the fires affected them, as it is sometimes difficult for the general public to distinguish between geographical areas. It is also important for them to clearly state how they are going to support the municipalities in need. The message must be clear: We are open for business.”
“They can't just sit back and say that this is Knysna's problem. It is the region's problem.”
Prof Melville Saayman.