Coming out on pop: Garden Route welded together by fire

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Coming out on pop: Garden Route welded together by fire

Eco-festival goers find the fire sparked a renewal of the ravaged land, and unity and awareness among residents

Sam Chambers


In June 2017 an inferno ravaged huge tracts of land in and around Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. Stoked by drought and gales, in five chaotic days the flames turned 16,000ha of the famously lush Garden Route into ash.
Just over a year later, GreenPop’s Eden Festival of Action arrived to reintroduce the greenery, and found that nature had already made a good start.
Although the fire destroyed thousands of hectares of forest it wiped the slate clean in more useful ways. The flames raced through impenetrable groves of alien Port Jackson and rooikrans and the intensity of the heat germinated buried fynbos seeds, resulting in an explosion of biodiversity.
Just as importantly, in the wake of the inferno communities woke up to the importance indigenous forests, which form natural slow-burning firebreaks and bring rain to the region.
The annual GreenPop festival, usually held in Zambia, is an effort to plant trees, clear aliens and raise awareness about the importance of treasuring the natural world. This year the team of environmental activists moved the event to the devastated Garden Route to help heal the scarred land.
It quickly became clear that they were not the only ones to heed the cries for help. The speakers, teachers, guests and hosts of the event repeatedly emphasised that the inferno and its aftermath had unified the community in a way they had not seen before. People long separated by race, class and distance had been welded together by fire.
The GreenPop event took place over three weeks, two of which were earmarked for high-school pupils. In the third week, men, women and children from all over SA arrived to help restore the lost forests of Eden. The main draw of the event was tree planting and alien removal, but participants ended up experiencing a lot more.
Daily workshops and activities covered organic farming, biomimicry (using nature’s billions of years of intelligence as a resource for design), natural building and beach clean-ups. The groups also painted three murals in impoverished areas, involving schoolchildren in their efforts to inspire a love of the natural world.
All of the food was vegan and no waste went to the landfill after the three weeks. Through eco-bricking, composting and recycling the GreenPop team embodied their ethos of giving back to the earth.
Conversations with participants made it clear that something much deeper than a love of trees had been sparked in them. They left with a deeper understanding and connection to nature, and a willingness to change their lives to help reverse the consequences of mankind’s abuse of the natural world.
A fire that destroyed the lives of thousands set off a chain of environmental awareness that has spread much further than the Garden Route. It appears to have been the spark that has ignited a nationwide consciousness.

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