Knysna on fire. We come together in a time of crisis


Knysna was burning. Hurricane-force winds had wrought havoc through Cape Town and its surrounds before surging down the Garden Route, chasing wildfire from Knysna to Port Alfred. But amid the ash that swirled above the onslaught, hope remained. Stripped raw by loss, the human spirit ached. And South Africa responded.

One of the first into the fray was Doctor Imtiaz Sooliman, who leads Africa’s largest disaster relief organisation, Gift of the Givers. Since 1992, the NGO has delivered over R2 billion worth of aid to over 40 countries – from Nepal to Somalia and Syria. Their impact is everywhere. Sooliman has braved horrific situations around the world to free people from catastrophe, taking on everything from tsunamis to famine. And now fire. After the tragedy, people from around the country donated food, blankets and clothing to fortify the relief effort in Knysna. Their generosity was matched by the community. Four hundred homes were burnt to the ground and estranged neighbours opened their doors. With the area’s fire brigades struggling to restrain the flames, firefighters were dispatched from all over the country to help. Within their ranks, volunteers who couldn’t be kept from doing their part. No matter the risk.

“People think that if you go to a disaster area you will find people who are demoralised, without hope,” says Sooliman. “But the strange thing is, the people with the greatest hope are there.” Lives were lost. The community will take years to rebuild. But community is more than the buildings that couldn’t endure the furnace. It is the human spirit that survived. As a nation, this stands as a reminder that when we face adversity, we stand up for one another. Time and time again. Sooliman is an embodiment of this innate goodness – just one among many who refuse to give up on South Africa.

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