Light in the darkness

Even when the Cape storm fires destroy the electricity, there is always light in the darkness says St Francis Bay freelance journalist Beth Cooper Howell in her weekly column for My HeraldLIVE today.

Sometimes, during a power outage, or on a particularly coal-black night, my little boy feels fearful of the dark.

Drawing on the wisdom of Tolkien, I tell him: “There is always light in the darkness. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

Over the past few days, here along the southern coast of Africa, thousands of people have found light – and hope – in the midst of a runaway inferno which took lives and land, and left kilometres of devastation in its wake.

Rheenendal resident Retha van Niekerk was new to the area and hadn’t had a chance to meet her neighbours yet – until they arrived, en masse, to save her life.

“When the fires started . . . we were soon cut off from everyone.

“No emergency vehicles could get to us, and ended up never being able to attend to us when all hell broke loose around the Garden Route.

“I remember standing in the front yard, watching the . . . blaze coming closer and thinking, ‘Should I wait longer? Should I wet everything – and what if I use all the water?

“You see, we do not have municipal supply; we have rain water, which was running low.

“Then – these angels appeared. About 10 bakkies, with fire beaters, water tanks, guts and drive.

“These fearless angels jumped off and attacked the fire with fierce determination. Tractors with ploughs arrived – and more people.

“I have never, in my nearly 50 years on earth, experienced such wonders as I have [over] the past couple of days.”

Sharing her experience on Facebook, Van Niekerk recalls how she asked one of the men to let her know when it was time to leave, as she needed to get her son and elderly parents to safety. Her husband was stranded in town.

“[The man] took my hand and said to me that he promised we would be safe. That was the first angel I met. His name was Deon.

“In the following days, I met Rodger, Shaun, Therri, Lauren, and so many more.”

When her husband finally made it home, and the family was forced to vacate the area temporarily, they waited until it was reasonably safe to return.

These scenes – of strangers and neighbours standing together against the fire – played themselves out across countless other blaze-hit areas.

“Not only at our house, but at every house threatened,” said Van Nierkerk.

“The community fighting these burning beasts, shoulder against shoulder.

“No colour, political or ego agendas; just neighbours of a close-knit community driven by care, fearless determination and spirit.

“Day after day, and night after night, the fire came back from the same direction or a new direction. Only now, Sunday afternoon, can we rest.

“We still have a few smouldering spots [needing] an eye, but our community broke the beast’s back.

“Unsung heroes, each and every one. I have no words to describe [their] utter selflessness and determination.”

Her story is echoed across every town, village or settlement unfortunate enough to lie in the path of the fire.

Shops, wallets and cupboards opened across provinces, and even as far afield as Namibia; thousands of sandwiches, soups and coffees made and donated goods packed and sorted into the wee hours to ensure that every victim was clothed, housed and fed.

There is always light in the darkness.


St Francis Bay freelance journalist Beth Cooper Howell takes a look at the other side of life in Woman on Top, her weekly lifestyle column for The Herald.

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