Natural, Environmental High Risk Disaster or Socio-Economic Injustice? the Case of the Knysna Veld Fires in the Western Cape, South Africa

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Zanetta JANSEN, University of South Africa, South Africa
In the month of June 2017 over two weeks, veld fires broke out and ravaged the natural environment, neighboring homes and even wild life as it spread across Knysna, a usually picturesque holiday and tourist destination in the Western Cape region of South Africa. This saw the destruction of hundreds of homes, several people’s deaths, losses of animal and wildlife, and the eviction and displacement of thousands more people from their homes in a bid to save lives while millions of rands is estimated to rebuild the town. According to official reports, the uncontrollable flames started at a core site and spread over 300km spurred on wildly by high velocity winds. Existent natural and environmental conditions too (i.e. drought, water shortages and a dry winter) were all contributing factors that flamed the devastation along the Garden Route, one of the most ecologically beautiful regions of the Cape Province, a coastal land. Forensic experts ruled out arson in the start of the Knysna fires and confirmed a lightning strike that led to a condition called “localized smouldering combustion” (The Herald Live.co.za). Despite this, all too often break away fires are usually related to social injustices; especially in winter months when, typically in SA as elsewhere, vagrant or homeless individuals are prone to lighting contained fires to keep warm. This paper addresses and delivers findings relevant to disaster risk reduction in this case study through use of quantitative and qualitative content analysis of online media reports across several South African online newspapers. It questions the validity of arguments for climate change against social-economic injustices and delayed actions of authorities.