Call for bank deal to assist home owners

Many residents lost everything in the fires that raged through the coastal towns of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. Photo: Deneesha Pillay/The Herald

Former Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus has urged the government and banks to negotiate a deal to assist scores of Knysna home owners whose houses were gutted by runaway fires last week.

Marcus, 67, is one of hundreds of Knysna residents piecing together their lives this week following a devastating blaze which wiped out homes and destroyed infrastructure in the Garden Route town.

She retired from the Reserve Bank in 2014 and has lived in Knysna for two years.

“My house is burnt to the fence but I’m fine. I bought the house in 2009,” she said in an interview after a Belvidere community meeting yesterday.

At the meeting with municipal and provincial government bosses, she cautioned the government to be mindful of the ripple effect of the fires.

“There are people who work [in affected establishments],” she said.

“They might not be direct fire victims, but they are victims of the fire because they now have no work.”

She urged the government to focus on key areas where rebuilding would have economic spin-offs for those who needed jobs.

“The first is on the construction effect and tourism. An angle worth pursuing is that if we organise enough we can pull this off,” Marcus said.

“Knysna is known around the world and a part of the rejuvenation of hope and confidence is to say we need this brigade for the environment. We will get youth from all over.

“They take gap years and can become part of rebuilding. It would regenerate the interest in Knysna as they will be part of rebuilding.”

In the interview later, Marcus said if Knysna had been declared a disaster area, banks had to come to the party to assist the situation.

“If you have a bond still and your house has not burnt down so you’re not claiming from insurance in a total disaster, but you’ve got partial damage to your house and can’t live in it, you then have the expense of living somewhere else. You may also be a person who, through the fire, has lost their job, or you have a small business [which has been affected]. So how do you pay your bond?

“I’m saying that in these circumstances, the banks need to give you room [and] say ‘we’re going to give you time, the insurance takes months to get through’.

“They’ve got to do an assessment and the rebuilding and so on.

“Therefore, [they need to say] ‘we are not going to say you have defaulted on your mortgage and penalise you’.

“[Normally], if you cannot pay, they foreclose and take your property.

“So the banks need to come to the party and say ‘in these special circumstances, we are not going to foreclose and put pressure on people’.

“The ministers and the municipality must [negotiate with the banks].

“They are the ones who are declaring it a disaster. They need to sit down around the table with them, put the banking association together and say to them ‘this is what our challenge is. We want you to come to the party’.”

She also cautioned mayor Eleanor Bouw-Spies on closing depots that were handing out goods for people affected by the fires as it emerged yesterday that scores of people not affected by the fire were also queuing for food and supplies at depots.

“I understand the pressure of needing and wanting, but closing the depots has a huge racial dynamic to it,” Marcus said.

“They might not have been fire victims but they are victims of the fire. Their needs are broader and we need to find ways of crossing our divides.

“We must not create the haves and have-nots.”

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