Rising above the ashes

Blessing Nyirenda lost his precious family in last year’s devastating blaze but still has hope for the future

Blessing Nyirenda
Blessing Nyirenda
Image: Screengrab

A young man who lost his wife and four-year-old daughter in the Knysna fires last year is working hard as an apprentice plumber and is determined to rise above his loss.

Blessing Nyirenda, 24, said he had been helped by money donated into a fund established by Ascot Golf Tours managing director Scott Edkins – who had himself lost his home.

After using some of the R150 000-odd raised to cover the funeral of his loved ones in Malawi, Nyirenda had applied to enrol in

Exactly one year on, the inferno that ravaged the Garden Route haunts those who faced the flames – but it has also galvanised a grieving mother to fight for measures to help prevent the kind of tragedy suffered by her family. Read more here: https://bit.ly/2sKwhzz Report | Guy Rogers Photographs and footage | Werner Hills Edit | Deneesha Pillay

a plumbing course at a skills college in George but his status as a non-South African had been a stumbling block.

Unwilling to relinquish his dream of becoming a plumber, he had managed to join property management company Guest Services and had been busy ever since, he said.

“It’s going well and I’m learning quickly.”

Sitting in his small cementblock home in White Location, Nyirenda said he had been working at well-known furniture factory Timber Village when the fire swept down on the afternoon of June 7 last year.

The work team evacuated just in time before the fire burnt the factory to the ground.

His wife, Enala, 23, had been visiting a prospective employer in Rheenendal, northwest of Knysna, where she was set to take up a position as a nanny.

On her return from the meeting she got the taxi to drop her at her brother’s house in Narnia Village, not far from Timber Village, Nyirenda said.

“As we were fleeing I called her on my cellphone and she had left Narnia and was walking with our daughter Catherine to our house on the Timber Village property.

“I told her ‘no, don’t go there – go back’.”

Five minutes later he called again but could not reach her.

Frantic with worry, he got the driver of their escape vehicle to turn back to Narnia but the area was covered in heavy smoke and access was blocked by firefighters who told him there was no one left in the area.
Nyirenda spent the night and the next day visiting police and fire stations and aid coordination centres.

Eventually he heard from a relative that Catherine’s body had been found.

A short while later, further news arrived that a woman had been found at a dam in the Timber Village area, he said.

“I went to the hospital. She was badly burnt but I could see it was Enala.

“Two days later, after she had been transferred to a private hospital in Cape Town, I heard that she had passed.”

His wife had apparently become disorientated in the smoke and she and Catherine had walked into the fire instead of away from it, he said.

The day after Enala died, Nyirenda got the news that his father, who had been ill in Malawi, had also died.

Clearly blessed with a sharp mind, he had nevertheless elected not to study after school but instead left Malawi for South Africa to try to get a job to support his wife and child after Enala fell pregnant.

After he established himself in Knysna, Enala followed him, arriving in August 2016 – just nine months before the fire that took her life.

Nyirenda said he was optimistic about his path forward despite his terrible loss.

He played the keyboard at Christ Restoration City church and was also part of their praise and worship team, he said proudly.

“I miss my wife and daughter every day. But I am young and I am a calm person.

“The future is still on.”