Out of the ashes will rise a new Knysna
By Carol Butcher
Shigeru Yoshida, Japanese diplomat, politician and Prime Minister of Japan (1946-47) famously said: “I speak of the old Japan, because out of the ashes of the old Japan there has risen a new Japan.” Atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima devastated Japan.
Last week was a traumatic week – millions of South Africans sat glued to their television screens watching in disbelief as fires, driven by 100km per hour wind, spread 1km every minute. Many were left homeless, and many have lost their jobs as businesses, particularly tourism-related entities went up in flames.
Tragedy and devastation often sparks greatness. South Africans in Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and as far afield as Port Elizabeth have shown greatness – they have opened their homes, hearts, wallets and purses to help. They have also rolled up their sleeves to help wherever help was needed. This has made an enormous difference.
There is no reason why Knysna and surrounding areas devastated by fire should not become a best practice model for the rest of the world, on how to rebuild devastated communities.
Many inspiring approaches and practices have been espoused. One of the leaders in the community, (I did not catch his name or position in the television interview) spoke about cutting red tape, embracing best practice, reducing time for planning approval, how refreshing. This mind-set needs to be supported fully.
It makes perfect sense to look at environmentally friendly practices. It was also refreshing to hear the need articulated to build more sustainable housing, particularly for the most vulnerable, the poor. These people were uninsured, and many have lost the little that they had.
What a rare opportunity to start with a fresh canvas. What a great opportunity for national government to play its part. How? By offering huge tax incentives to people, who install water tanks, grey water systems, and solar power. These systems should be installed automatically in poor communities. They should not be viewed as “nice to haves.”
There is also a great opportunity to create employment for locals, particularly people, who were previously unemployed. Much hard work needs to be done – there is the need to clean up what remains, replant trees and vegetation, build buildings, repair infrastructure.
What a great opportunity to create employment and upskill people. We need to use the opportunity to build transferable skills, to empower individuals and ensure that they are more employable in the future. Surely, it is possible to remove red tape, and develop short learnerships, and upskill individuals as the infrastructure and town is rebuilt? Surely it is possible to create short qualifications for individuals, who replace taps, lay water pipes, excavate, paint, install water tanks and the like?
Where projects are given to larger contractors, in as far as it is practically possible, local people should be employed.
The Knysna area has historically been home to many affluent retirees. Many are professional people. How many engineers, infrastructure experts, project managers, horticulturalists and others would volunteer their skills and expertise to get things moving? It may only be a matter of asking.
South Africans are always at their strongest, at their best when communities join hands and work together. People living along the Garden Route have inspired South Africans.
A new, better Knysna will rise out of the ashes.