The desolation, the grief and the pain caused by the relentless flames must have been, and probably still are, as all-consuming as those.
My heart aches for those who have lost virtually everything. It will be hard to forget the agony in Pyp van Tonder’s voice after his farm Eerstegeluk (in Harrismith) burnt for the third time in a row. On the other hand, I’ll always remember his strength of mind, as he vowed to carry on, to start afresh.
The only time he seemed on the brink of losing control was when he told me about his beloved sheep and cattle succumbing to the flames.
Fire has no mercy. It’s in fire’s nature to consume and destroy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But explain that to the people who have lost loved ones in the fires. How does one console a wife and mother who lost her husband and 15-year-old son in the inferno? Or children who lost their mother? What does one say to the owners of the three homesteads left in ashes after flames blazed through them?
Possessions can be replaced, but the comfort of home, the security of the known and the familiar, and the reassurances of continuity, are not so easily reinstated. I believe it takes at least one generation to rebuild the emotional support of a family home after such a disaster.
But Free Staters are brave people. They’ve learnt to cope with whatever life and nature throw at them. This is not the first devastating veld fire season they’ve had to face, nor will it be the last. My province’s people are adept in getting off their knees after being struck down by nature and tackling the job at hand. I am inordinately proud of them.
Homage should also be paid the countless men and women who have put their lives at stake to fight the flames. I take my hat off to each and every one of them. It is no mean feat to put oneself at the forefront of real and tangible danger. It’s terrifying to face 4m-high flames.
May all of them be blessed and richly rewarded for their selflessness and dedication.
God be with us all!