Much of what we anticipate on a trip to the coast involves water – vast expanses of ocean, crashing waves, surfing, swimming and fishing. The image is so palpable that one can almost taste the saltiness of the sea.
But this year, the celebrations are marred by one of the worst fires in living memory, which has left a devastating Scorched-Earth scar along this exquisite Garden Route. On my recent trip to Port Elizabeth on the weekend of the 3rd and 4th November, we witnessed a Pompeii crushing pall of smoke that stretched from Mossel Bay to far beyond Plettenberg Bay.
Amid the chaos of brave chopper pilots drawing water to drop on the infinite blaze and fire fighters soldiering on for days on end to halt the ceaseless waves of fire, we also witnessed the horror of disorientated bees, birds and other creatures displaced from their homes – those that were lucky enough to escape.
Once the mopping up is done, the reality is that actual lives have been lost and actual livelihoods will be lost as a direct result of this catastrophe, in a region of the country that generates massive revenue through eco-tourism.
‘Garden Route’ will just be yet another disingenuous mind trick out of George Orwell’s 1984, if we say eco-tourism, whilst doing nothing to prevent this coastal gem being lynched and burnt.
So what do we take from this? Were the fires foreseeable and preventable, and if so how? Wise observation, detailed planning and actual execution will all have to be present if we are to get intelligent answers and we are genuine about salvaging something from this experience. Egos will have to be put aside, and all ideas geared towards preservation of the Garden Route welcomed and evaluated. One of those ‘if I was the president for a day’ lists that are unencumbered by petty politics and self-aggrandisement, but sincerely aimed at improving the world we live in.
Practical steps could be taken to not only prevent this happening again, but in a manner that creates sustainable employment. In this context, here is a ‘president for a day’ list:
• Culprit alien vegetation of a certain land area percentage on any property, should attract higher insurance premiums.
The same alien species of wood we rush to make braais with, is exactly the wood that burns several times hotter than
indigenous fynbos permitting a wildfire to spiral out of control, making the consequences so much more devastating.
• The legislated removal of such alien species could in turn create massive employment opportunities with other
• Give tax incentives to farmers that remove alien vegetation and create this avenue for employment.
• Tax incentives for good practices could be brainstormed. For instance, why not give tax incentives to nurseries that
stock fynbos? For every 10% increment stocked, a further rebate is granted. Hardier indigenous plants create water-
savings (in turn more resources for fire prevention) and underpin our heritage as the fynbos nation of the world.
• The consequences of flicking a cigarette into the grass along the road should be brought to bear. There is a fine
line between gross negligence and intent.
• Any industry that is not water-wise should either be prevented or heavily taxed. We cannot drink money when all the
water is gone.
• Implement biomimicry policies into all avenues from industry to town planning. At the moment we still have just
enough abundance, for us to be lulled into thinking it will last forever.
All that is required for things to change for the better, is that we do something with an intent higher than
ourselves. The loss of the Garden Route as an eco-tourism pilgrimage is only possible if we stand idly by, fill out
standardised reports, try our best not to think, fall for get rich quick schemes, and in reality do nothing.
Just ask yourself that one question- would any foreign tourists return and spend their dollars, euros or pounds to see the ‘Burnt Garden Route’?