Group have no hope of returning to farm where they lived for generations
A destitute 13-member Buffalo Bay family, whose homes were destroyed in last week’s fires, have very little prospect of ever returning to them because their occupation had been part of a former inter-generational farm labour system.
The family, who claim that the farmer on whose land they had lived does not want them back, may now be forced to start an entirely new life in Knysna, to where they were evacuated when the blaze ripped through their three neighbouring homes.
At a makeshift living area on the stage at Knysna’s Hornlee Community Centre hall, softly-spoken Linda Matthys said she had no idea what the future held for her and her extended family.
“My father used to be employed on the farm,” she said.
“We all stayed there. I have no permanent job and neither does my husband.
“He does garden work where he can.
“I used to get some seasonal work on the farm.
“Now that we are here, we have not heard anything from the farm owner and we don’t see any chance he will rebuild our houses and take us back.”
Matthys declined to name the farm or its owner.
Efforts to locate him were unsuccessful.
Matthys, who was sharing the curtain-partitioned living area with two other families which collectively comprised 26 people at the community hall, described a Saturday night of terror and disbelief when they lost their homes and belongings.
“The fires had come through Knysna and other areas late on Wednesday, and we did not think we would be affected,” she said.
“The fires had been flaring up in places and they came and went, and came and went.
“Then suddenly the fire was at our homes.
“We were evacuated to a church in Buffelsbaai. While we were there, I heard my name being mentioned and when I inquired I came across the farmer’s son.
“He told me our houses were destroyed, gone, and that was that.
“I thought it was a joke, I just could not believe it.”
“I am told that the farmer does not want us back, so I don’t know what we are going to do.
“We are just staying here where we are being fed and have received some clothes.
“If my husband can get a job, I think we will stay here in Knysna but I don’t know where we will end up.”
Disaster relief volunteers and Knysna Ward 6 committee members Cherelene Windvogel and Ashley Wildeman said that the family’s plight was going to be handed over to the local authorities.
But they said they believed that efforts would be made to accommodate all of the affected families.
“The owner of the farm on which one of the families was staying will not be taking that family back,” Windvogel said.
“I believe that efforts will be made to accommodate the family in Knysna.
“There was an effort made to relocate the family to Buffelsbaai last night [Tuesday] and house the family in a tent there, but this did not work out.
“The family will be staying on here in the hall until alternative arrangements have been made.”
Wildeman said volunteers did not further want to traumatise the families by simply moving them from one hall to another.
“The family has members who are in school, so we would like to see that they can be accommodated locally to give the family stability and a chance to pick up their lives,” he said.
The families, who also included residents from Salt River, were being housed in the centre temporarily and until the Knysna Municipality started to take over aid and other functions.
In the chaotic period during and immediately after the fires, these were being largely handled by private individuals, companies, churches, charities and organisations such as Rotary Clubs and Lions International.
The municipality said on Tuesday it was closing aid distribution depots and taking the registration and administration process of fire-affected residents forward.