In the wake of news about how devastating the Cape fires have been this year, speculation has mounted about some or even all of the fires possibly being started on purpose.
It’s unclear what the motive for such acts of arson would be, but much angry guesswork appears to have surrounded it, with unsubstantiated allegations already made that it could be an act of political sabotage to undermine the Western Cape government, while others have alleged (also so far without proof) that one of the companies that is contracted to put out the fires or perform recovery work in the wake of the fires may in fact be drumming up some business. No particular names have yet come to light though.
Even the province’s premier, Helen Zille, has asked a question around the real cause:
If it is arson, the more likely explanation will probably turn out to be that it is mere mischief. For example, it was reported this week that residents of the Bo-Kaap on the slopes of Signal Hill in Cape Town had identified a teenage boy as a suspect in relation to fires that ravaged the area last week and over the weekend.
Mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith was quoted by News24 as saying that “When the fires started, [the residents] noticed the fire was ignited at three separate points about 10 minutes apart. [It was] undoubtedly arson.”
He reportedly said the suspect was a 14-year-old teenager who ran away before the police could arrive.
Smith also said hundreds of other fires were also all “caused by people”, though the reasons for this could be anything from negligence (for the fires in Grabouw, for instance) to maliciousness.
The fires have cost the City of Cape Town and its ratepayers millions and Smith said that a reward for any credible information that could lead to arrests would probably be paid.
The devastation runs through the Cape Peninsula, along the West Coast and into the Cape Winelands. The air force has been assisting with water bombing.
The Calais Wine Estate, which dates back to 1692, was also gutted by fires in Paarl.
The following audio clip (in Afrikaans) was sent to The Citizen of a Paarl farmer asking her community to pray because she could allegedly see people starting fires intentionally in broad daylight (while firefighting helicopters flew overhead).
It is understood to come off a WhatsApp group dedicated to fighting the fires in the winelands, but has not been verified or authenticated, However, it does raise several troubling questions if true.
She says: “Oh, you must pray. We are standing in our kitchen and seeing how a farm is being set on fire. The helicopter is on its way to another fire and we are seeing how they are setting another farm on fire while the helicopters are flying over them. Waldi is standing and looking at them through his binoculars … we see them, Marinette, we see them burning. You must just pray.”
A Fire Investigation Task Team (consisting of the SAPS, City of Cape Town, and Enviro Wildfire Services) is continuing to investigate the matter and has asked for all relevant information to be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org to “be entered into the comprehensive veldfire database, assessed and then passed onto the appointed SAPS Task Team member for further investigation”.