Scramble to feed and clothe victims of Wupperthal inferno

31 December 2018 - 14:58 By BOBBY JORDAN and NICO GOUS
A fire devastated Wupperthal, near Clanwilliam, on Sunday December 30 2018, leaving an estimated 200 people homeless.
A fire devastated Wupperthal, near Clanwilliam, on Sunday December 30 2018, leaving an estimated 200 people homeless.
Image: AJ Van Brandt via Facebook

Holidaymakers in the remote Cederberg district of the Western Cape have rallied together to help victims of a devastating fire that destroyed much of the town of Wupperthal on Sunday.

Cash donations, food and water are on their way to the more than 200 people left homeless by the blaze that razed at least 40 homes, the town hall and several historic buildings, including a shoe factory and part of the local Moravian Mission Station.

Willem Lambrechts, co-owner of a SuperSpar in nearby Clanwilliam, and his staff were coordinating relief efforts on behalf of some of their regular clients wishing to help.

The shop itself as well as the Spar Group were also donating food, Lambrechts said.  “A lot of things are happening at the same time now and we are glad for each and every donation. We are putting it all together and will transport it to Wupperthal and hand it over to leaders of the Moravian church,” Lambrechts said.

Wupperthal developed alongside a Moravian church mission station. The town is also known for its shoe factory that produces quality veldskoene and is a popular stopover during the Namaqualand flower season. Pictures circulating on social media on Monday of the burnt out church façade prompted widespread shock and sympathy.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday expressed his sadness at the destruction.

“The nation’s thoughts go out to the people of Wupperthal who have suffered terrible personal losses alongside cultural assets that are of importance to all South Africans and especially Moravian congregations across the Western Cape,” he said in a statement.

 Ramaphosa said government, notably the departments of local government and arts and culture, would work with the Wupperthal community to being relief to the area.

He commended initiatives launched by various communities and organisations to assist residents.

Some concerned residents of nearby Clanwilliam rallied holidaymakers to drop off provisions at the local NG Kerk, with other donations coming from Cape Town and Vredendal.

Michelle Korevaar, founder of non-profit organisation ChangeMakersHope, said she was touched by the outpouring of festive season charity. “My Facebook has just exploded.  It is just wonderful that people at this time of year aren’t just thinking about themselves.”  

“What we need to be thinking about is that the whole infrastructure of a town needs to be rebuilt,”  said Korevaar, who visited the town on Monday to drop off clothing and basic provisions.  

TimesLIVE was unable to reach fire victims by phone as communication infrastructure,  including landlines, was destroyed by the blaze.

“The nearest contact we have is with a town near Wupperthal on the mountains,” said AJ Brandt who grew in the remote town.

Brandt said there were 120 to 150 houses in Wupperthal.

Another problem was the fire damaging some of the water infrastructure but the fire brigade fought the blaze with water from the nearby Tra Tra river.

The Moravian church could not be reached for comment. 

Korevaar said the fire may have been sparked by residents who were smoking beehives in windy conditions. Gale force conditions then caused the fire to get out of control.

Fire victims are being accommodated in the town’s remaining homes, in the absence of the town hall which also burnt down, said Korevaar.