Perched high on a hill in Welbedacht, overlooking picturesque Knysna, is a poignant memorial to the most fragile of little souls – a three-year-old girl killed by raging fires that devastated the Garden Route last week. A bowl of water filled with colourful flowers has been set down next to pansy shells and a round figurine that depicts people arm in arm, as if they are protecting what lies within.
But what really lay just a couple of metres away last week was a sight that will forever haunt Scott Edkins – the body of a tiny girl, lying next to a small pond and below the ropes of what was once a swing.
The child, Catherine Nyirenda, and her mother had been trying to outrun the fires when her mother set her down, presumably believing the little girl would be safe, as she raced down the hill to rescue some of the family’s belongings.
A short while after Catherine’s body was found on Thursday, her severely burnt mother Enala, 23, was discovered clinging to life. It was a life she held onto for just a day.
The pair left behind Catherine’s father, Blessing Nyirenda, 24, who earlier the same week lost his father, who died of natural causes.
Now Edkins, 44, is doing all in his power to help the Malawian father rebuild his life.
“I lost my house but I haven’t lost a child.” he said, saying that when Nyirenda was brought to where Catherine’s body lay, “he collapsed, inconsolable”.
Edkins has set up a crowd-funding page to raise funds for Nyirenda, who is trying to get the bodies of his wife and daughter home.
Nyirenda’s uncle, Alfonso Nyirenda, 42, yesterday explained the absolute trauma the family is going through.
When Weekend Post asked if Nyirenda was able to talk, Alfonso said: “He is not in a good condition. Every time he speaks to someone it is like digging into the wound. We even had ANC people yesterday [Thursday] who wanted to talk – we said no.
“We cannot allow it. Every time he talks he runs to the bedroom and cries. Then everyone in the house cries.”
Alfonso said Nyirenda had, yesterday, attended a memorial service for the seven people who had died in the Knysna fires.
“It is too much. He is too young of a boy to go through all this … three people in the family dead.”
To get Catherine and Enala home to Malawi for burial, DNA testing must first be undertaken and documents put in place.
Alfonso said: “It is R2 000 to get her [Enala] from Tygerberg [where she died]. We are also waiting for DNA results.” He said his brother and sister would travel with Nyirenda and the bodies to Malawi, where they would be buried.
Edkins said he had to help Nyirenda. “He’s a shattered man. He’s struggling. We don’t want this to just be a one-off donation.”
He said the money would first be used to help get the bodies back home but the hope was then to help Nyirenda rebuild his life.
“There have been job offers and offers of a house to stay in when he gets back. A golf day in Austria has been organised, donations have come in from Australia, Japan and New Zealand … all over the world.”
Edkins said he hoped that in five years’ time Nyirenda would once again have his life on track.
That said, Edkins shakes his head: “Hopefully he can have a normal life. It’s difficult to know what normal is after losing your family.”
The site of the little memorial, placed by residents moved by Nyirenda’s loss, paints a vivid picture of the power of last week’s fire.
The still smouldering embers on the scorched earth, the burnt out houses and shells of cars are in stark contrast to the cheerful flowers tenderly laid in memory of a child’s life cut way too short.
Those wanting to donate to the fund for Nyirenda can do so by paying into a First National Account with the following details.
Account name: SATE TRUST;
Account number: 62517860830;
Bank code: 200409.