Fire on the Mountain
Written by: Lance Claasen
Being born and raised in Cape Town, you become fully aware of the dangers of fires. The long dry summers coupled with gale-force winds make the mountain fynbos and its accompanying alien vegetation a tinder box. Thus a discarded stompie, an unattended braai or piece of broken glass can ignite a fire of monumental proportions. This is what happened to my favourite place in the world, Cape Town’s South Peninsula over the last week. Veld fires ravaged the place I still call home.
We who grew up in the shadow of Table Mountain are used to theses of fires breaking out every few years. We have become used to terms like “worst in living memory” that accompanies most of these tragedies. So when the fire started on Sunday, I was not too fazed. Newspapers will have great photos with catchy headlines and in a day or two it will all be sorted. This was not to be.
Four days in, I spoke to a friend of mine in Fish Hoek who has been leading a group of volunteers fighting fires. The story he told was a story of heroic fire fighters, dedicated volunteers and a blaze whose appetite for homes and tears is inexhaustible. He also told me of greed by looters coming over from neighbouring Hout Bay and bureaucratic ineptness by the City of Cape Town disaster management. He was exhausted along with the hundreds of other fire fighters who had not slept for over 24 hours. This story of a fire on mountains in the south of Cape Town cannot escape the broader South African narrative.
The deep South Peninsula is far from transformed. It is composed of middle- class white people, poor coloured people and impoverished black people. Most of those evacuated are white, but most of the fire fighters and many of the volunteers are coloured and black. The firefighters kept going, even when their shifts were over. if they were fully rested, they would have been of more use in the fight against the fire.
The colour of the skin of the home owners did not matter to them, only the fact that their homes were at risk. Risking their lives and sacrificing safety they kept at it and did not ask for recognition, only for the support to help fight the fire.
Fire does not know colour, race, gender or political orientation and neither do those who fight it.