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March 6, 2015

#CapeFire: Firemen are heroes everywhere

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Twitter/NicolaTheron
The fires destroying swathes of lands and lives in Cape Town is the biggest news in South Africa this week, and the media has applauded the local community for everything it has been doing for those affected in the fire. But the coverage rings hollow to me.

Certainly the media's focus on the fire is because of its longevity and also because of the size of the land the fire has affected (here's a link to a map of how much of Johannesburg would have been burnt, and here to a map of Paris) - more than 5,000 hectares. The fire has destroyed large areas of Table Mountain National Park. The fire itself started above Muizenberg's Boyes Drive, presumably as a result of a passer-by's stray cigarette butt, proof once again that humans are their own and nature's worst enemy. It spread fast across Chapman's Peak, Hout Bay, and Tokai. Parts of Noordhoek were also affected. Thirteen families whose homes were sheltered from the Cape's windy days amongst the trees and bush of the mountain now don't even have a home to go back to. Pensioners Fran and Jeffrey Collings' home in Constantia burnt down to the ground, as did this lady's below.


One of the things most praised in this blaze is how the community has come together to aid those affected by the fire and the efforts of the emergency services. Apart from community relief efforts at Noordhoek's Dutch Reformed Hall and other places, masses of volunteers decided to help fight the flames and so many food donations were made that the City of Cape Town allegedly had to ask people to stop donating. People made so many donations to the firemen who faught heroically that the firefighters "[could not] see the firehouse". Primedia Broadcasting's KFM and Cape Talk alone managed to garner pledges worth more than R700,000 to aid firefighters and Wild Fire Services in battling the inferno.

All this love from the Mother City is great!

But...

Why don't I hear about Cape Town's heart when thousands are displaced in shack fires and other disasters? Just two months ago, a seven-year-old boy died in a shack fire in Kraaifontein, which destroyed several shacks and left 10 people homeless. In August last year, 2,000 people were affected by a storm that flooded around 1,500 shacks just in Khayelitsha. Five thousand people had been affected around the city. In March 2013, 2,500 people were homeless after 600 shacks were gutted in Kayamandi. Two people also died. In December last year, 118 people were displaced after a fire swept through 30 shacks in an informal settlement in Hout Bay. The same night, four other fires broke out, leaving a family homeless in Ravensmead, two people homeless in Khayelitsha, six shacks and 18 people displaced in Fizantekraal, and 15 people homeless in Kraaifontein. Sure, these fires did not last nearly as long as the one sweeping through the southern peninsula now.
The very same firemen and rescue services who help rescue the people living in the worst conditions in the country are those rescuing the people who live in the very best. But now they are drowning in donations and receiving tonnes of praise. I am not saying they don't deserve the praise - these are people who put their lives on the line for the good of their community every day. But that's just it. They do it every day. They deserve praise every day.
But why does it seem as though they only get it when they use their heroics in certain areas? Why do they get help when homes with foundations are affected? I don't wish to detract at all from the help that has been given by everyone so far, nor from the help that others offer throughout the year. But there is an obvious discrepancy in the help offered.

What do you think?

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