Malawian gardener mourns death of sister, niece in Knysna fires

2017-06-21 09:30
Enara Manda, 23, succumbed to her severe burn wounds two days after getting caught in a blaze with her 3-year-old daughter Catherine on her way home from work.
 (Supplied)

Enara Manda, 23, succumbed to her severe burn wounds two days after getting caught in a blaze with her 3-year-old daughter Catherine on her way home from work. (Supplied)

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Cape Town - The last conversation Malumbo Manda had with his sister Enara the night before she sustained fatal burn wounds during the fires that engulfed parts of Knysna, she told him she wanted to return home to Malawi at the end of the year.

Twenty-three-year-old Enara Manda had moved to Knysna, in the Western Cape, seven months ago with her husband and three-year-old daughter Catherine. She had been working as a domestic worker while her husband, Blessings, earned an income doing odd jobs as a gardener in the scenic town.


While having a conversation with his sister on Whatsapp on the night of June 7, Manda said their conversation revolved mainly around his sister's plans to work hard enough and save up enough money to go back home to Mzimba, in Malawi at the end of the year.

"We were talking about family issues. I asked her, 'My sister, when are you going back home?' [she said] 'Maybe end of this year because I have to do something,'".

Hours later, Enara was fighting for her life after sustaining critical burn wounds while trying to save her daughter, who succumbed to the injuries she had sustained from the fire.

Large parts of Knysna, Brenton-on-Sea, Buffalo Bay and surrounds, and parts of Plettenberg Bay, went up in flames on the night of June 7 and several days after that as the community and firefighters struggled to extinguish the flames.


The strong gale force winds did not make their task any easier, to a point where helicopters were grounded for safety reasons for a certain period of time.

fires
What remains in parts of Knysna after the fires. (Supplied)

Nearly 10 000 people were evacuated and seven people died in about 28 fires across the region. Almost 1 000 firefighters helped bring the fires under control in what was the largest deployment of firefighting resources in a single incident in the country's history.

Manda received a call, while tending to the garden in a Sandton complex, with news from his father Michael, informing him that his niece was no longer alive and that his sister was fighting for her life.

Dropped shoe

"I was here at work. I remember my father called me and said 'your [niece] is not well in Cape Town, and her mother'. I said, 'Okay, let me call them'. And then I called my [brother]-in-law there, he said, 'Yes, your [niece] is dead ... And her mother, I didn't see where she is'."

Manda was told that his sister and niece came across the fire on her way back from work on June 8.

"At that time, the fire started on top of the hill at the other houses. It started there and the wind started pushing that fire towards the town. So my sister was coming from work with her daughter.

"So her husband called her and said 'don't come here [home] because there is a fire here, don't come back here'."


Blessings Nyirenda walks around the ruins after losing his wife Enara and daughter Catherine to the flames that hit Knysna and other parts of the region. (Supplied)

After this conversation with her husband, Enara decided to turn around and head back in the direction she had come from, Manda said.

"She is living near her work, it's not too far from where she was working, but there is a river between where she was working and where she lived," Manda said.

On her way back to where she had come from, she dropped one of Catherine's shoes. When she realised that the toddler only had one shoe on, she decided to put her down near a bush and rush back to fetch the other shoe.

By the time she made her way back, the flames had already reached the area where they were. She tried to reach her daughter to protect her from the flames and was severely burnt in the process, Manda said.

The toddler died immediately.

Catherine Nyirenda

Three-year-old Catherine Nyirenda died almost two weeks ago in Knysna when the town was engulfed in flames. (Supplied)

'The whole body was burnt'

According to Manda, a man who knew Enara and her husband well had seen her walking along that route and tried to rescue her. He managed to get her to a nearby hospital but Enara succumbed to her injuries two days later.

Enara's husband was inconsolable, Manda said. He had tried to calm him down but said the man felt his life was over now that his wife and child were gone.

"He was crying and saying maybe we can go together. He said, 'My wife is dead, my daughter is dead, so it's better if we can go together'."

He said he found it difficult to speak to him because he would break down each time they tried to have a conversation.

"If I need to speak to him, he's just crying… and I don't know what we can do, it is too difficult. So I don't speak to him."

Even his father was struggling to make peace with the loss of his daughter and grandchild, Manda said.

"We are all feeling so sad. We can't understand what happened."

Manda made his way down to Knysna on June 9 with his father and uncle Widson to assist Blessings. When they arrived and were asked to identify the bodies, he said most of the burns on his niece's body had been on her head. Enara on the other hand had been burnt all over her body, but he still managed to recognise her face, he said.  

"She [got] burned [on] the whole body. Only the face [was okay] but the whole body was burnt."

'Uncle, where are you?'

The bodies were now going through DNA processing and the family was awaiting results. After their identities were confirmed, the family hoped to get assistance from government to transport their bodies back to Malawi for burial.

As much as Manda wanted to see his niece and sister off, he said he was not in the position, financially, to take a return trip to Malawi.

"I don't have enough money to go there and come back. Because the body, we are supposed to send it with an airplane, and my father and I are going to use the bus so I can't manage to go there and come back again."


From left to right: Enara's uncle Widson Manda, her husband Blessings Nyirenda and her father Michael Manda in Knysna after the fires were quelled by firefighters. (Supplied)

When recalling his conversations with his niece, Manda said she would constantly ask when he would be visiting her.

"She would say 'Uncle, where are you? I need to see you' and then [I would say] 'Ah no, I'm coming. Maybe the end of this month I'm coming. We were just joking," he said with a small smile appearing on his face.

He would miss her dancing the most, he added.

"She liked dancing. You know our culture likes dancing so much, she liked dancing a lot."

Almost two weeks later, firefighters still working on what remained of the devastating Garden Route blaze said they were hoping to extinguish the last of the smouldering areas between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay by Tuesday, ahead of stronger south-westerly winds predicted for later in the week.

The Western Province legislature has set aside R75m toward rebuilding and recovery, and private fundraising continues with donations in cash and kind still pouring in.


What remains in parts of Knysna after the fires. (Supplied)



Read more on:    george  |  knysna fires  |  fires

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