Herman Labuschagne met a Knysna family that lost everything and was in awe of their selflessness during the tragedy, they only wanted to help their horses!
The horse that was on fire.
Someone in Knysna phoned to ask for help. I’d perked up a bit after the weekend’s illness so I was able to go try to sort the problem out. Knysna as we all know it doesn’t exist anymore. Not at the moment, at least. It is still smoldering on all sides, but the immediate threat is past.
I went to see a family who’d lost absolutely everything. They thought they were OK. The gale was blowing southerly and there was a river between them – but suddenly it changed to the east and headed right towards them. The next thing, a fireball landed in a big tree and it burst into flames, they said perhaps a 100 feet high.
After that, two houses and their business shed were incinerated within five minutes. Inside were several boats, and machinery such as lathes and a R100,000 embroidery machine. There was also a recently built houseboat with new Yamaha engines on it. Practically all that was left of all of this were the half-molten aluminium engine blocks, a few steel frames and a pile of twisted roof plates. I couldn’t even make out where their houses had stood. I had to ask where the homes had been and they pointed to a spot. They were just gone. Level with the ground and blown away.
I discovered something today. Here was a family who did not waste time feeling sorry for themselves. I kept asking them what they needed and they kept saying nothing, only water for the horses. I asked what they had managed to save. They said only their vehicles and the clothes they wore. There was time for absolutely nothing else. I asked if they had insurance. She smiled and shook her head before replying bravely, “we’ll just have to start from scratch again…”
I felt sad when I heard her say that, but also inspired. She is not at age that people want to start all over again. Neither is her husband, Mike, a tall, slender man with a long white beard. Yet, when he shook my hands, I could feel his palms were those of a man who knew how to work. Then I knew, they’ll be alright in the end. Survivors have hands like his.
I’ve never been a particularly passionate “animal person”. I like animals, but not in an overly emotional way as some do. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed working with plants or fish or birds instead. Nevertheless, I’ve had a lot of animal pets in my life, and what farm boy doesn’t have a heart for the beasts that toil the field?
Wendy told me when they saw it all go up she ran and opened the gates so that the animals could run out. All the horses and dogs made it, and all the cats except one who probably ran into the wrong direction.
But then there was the old pony. He was 30 years old, she said. He is full of arthritis, stone deaf and only has one eye. Wendy thinks he must have hidden in the stable until it caught fire. When the lucerne inside burst in to flames, she said it practically blew the roof off.
Being on fire from head to toe, the frightened animal ran off into the night. Fortunately he has a very thick coat of hair, and that saved his skin. He then had the good sense to roll, which finally extinguished the flames. Because of all the singing, he is now a yellow horse, instead of what he used to be – a white one. The poor little animal’s nose and lips got burned, and she says he is in pain, but otherwise it looks as if he had been lucky.
He just stood there, chewing his bundle of hay,trusting us without reservation. I asked Wendy what they were going to do next? She said they were first going to try and build new fences so that the horses can be safe. I asked where they get the fodder form? She says they buy it from the co-op in town.
I asked her what they needed. She kept saying “nothing.” I know they don’t need “nothing.” You can’t need “nothing” when you don’t have anything at all. If I were a farmer, I’d have had extra fencing stock, or pipes or building material that I’m sure I could have sent them. But that’s the spirit that some people have. They know that everybody who has been plundered by the flames are in need. And they are trying to help by helping themselves as much as they can, and taking as little as possible. Such is the enduring spirit of the survivors among humans.
People with an attitude like that once built our country and made it great. I’m glad there are still some of them left. I see there are more than I had previously believed.
There are times when I feel very glad about having been wrong.