Jaco and Amanda Steenekamp are still in extreme shock. They are grateful to be alive and grateful to the community, but their hearts are still broken at the loss of their dogs and birds, who they say were children to them. Photo supplied.
Date: 16 December 2018 By: Jo Robinson
Amanda and Jaco Steenekamp lost everything they owned in less than an hour. Their haunted eyes clearly show the heartbreak of the still-fresh memories of the cries of their beloved lost dogs and birds, after the fire that began in the blink of an eye razed everything that they possessed to ashes.
The family were still getting ready for the day that was just beginning at their home on a smallholding in the Southdown farming area outside Louis Trichardt. At around 06:00 on Sunday, 9 December, the couple’s son Raldo (24) heard a loud hissing and banging sound coming from what appeared to be upper part of the back of their large, five-bedroom home. He immediately let his parents know, who then both ran out into the passage.
When they reached the hallway, they saw orange flames high up at the back of the house and a pitch-black wall of smoke. In the instant chaos that ensued, with the shock realisation that the house was burning, they ran out of the kitchen door. Then they realised that their three little dogs had run back in to the master bedroom, which was where they always went when they felt that they needed safety.
They called and tried to get back into the home to save their pets, but to no avail. Amanda badly bruised herself in the process of trying to climb through a small window, but the flames made it impossible to enter. The ceilings in the home were all made of knotty pine and quick to ignite, and blazing flames prevented them from getting through to the back of the home. They tried to fight the fire with their garden hoses, but this made no impact on the fire, and their two African Grey parrots and their daughter’s cockatiel succumbed quickly to the smoke.
Even though it was impossible to go through the flames that engulfed their home within minutes, the guilt of being unable to save their helpless pets is clearly more painful to this family than the fact that they had lost every single one of their possessions. Valuable heirlooms, decades of collections, important documents, electrical equipment, and the things accrued over a lifetime are all gone forever.
Even though the fire brigade was called straight away, they arrived only after the house had already burnt to the ground, and the only flames remaining were a few small, tenacious ones smouldering in a thick beam, which they did extinguish. The Land Cruiser fire-fighting vehicle was equipped with a small tank that had to be filled first on the property as it was empty on arrival. Members of the community, however, arrived quickly to help with personally owned fire-carts that they usually use to fight bushfires, but the fire burned too quickly, and the house burned down completely in less than an hour. “We will never forget the absolute support of our neighbours,” said Amanda. “Our community, friends and strangers alike rallied around us instantly to offer support in every imaginable way. We will be eternally grateful to every one of them. We are still blown away.”
The couple are only beginning to think about the enormity of the physical things that have been lost. “The windows exploded, the roof caved in, and then the walls collapsed,” said Amanda. “It was all over so quickly.”
Jaco was planning on taking early retirement two years from now. He has been an avid fisherman all his life, and Amanda shares his passion. The two have been building up a stock of brand-new fishing equipment for the fishing “clinics” they were planning on doing when he cashed in his pension. More than R800 000 of fishing gear alone went up in smoke in the fire. “No more early retirement and teaching fishing for us,” said Jaco sadly. More than that, Amanda and Jaco are both collectors at heart. In addition to family furniture that was hundreds of years old, Amanda lost her complete collection of C J Langenhoven books. “It’s rare to have the whole collection of Langenhoven’s works,” said Jaco. “The bookshelves they were kept in were from the early Cape Colony with the many first-edition books I inherited from my father. We had a lot of wooden things.” They suddenly remember that one of the most valuable first editions in their collection, Wat se boom is dit? is also gone, and the memories of things lost suddenly come hard and fast.
The Steenekamp family had many hobbies. Jaco built a grandfather clock. Amanda had a collection of wildlife paintings on the walls by her brother, artist Jean Abrie, but what bothers her more is the fact that they can never be replaced, rather than the monetary value of her famous sibling’s artwork. The family own only the clothes that they were wearing after the fire. In Jaco’s case, that was simply a pair of shorts. The Louis Trichardt community has rallied around as it always does, and all help for the Steenekamps will be greatly appreciated.
The couple were worried about forgetting the names of the people that they want to thank. “We want to thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts,” said Amanda. “Everyone was there to help within 15 minutes of our sending the message on the farm emergency WhatsApp group. Thank you to the whole Southdown community, Christo Snyman, Meisie van Wyngaardt, Jeanette and Kallie Burger, Isabel and Tony José, and our daughter and son-in-law for instantly jumping in to help – Lisa and Vitor.” Jaco said that he could not thank his colleagues at the Makhado South African Police enough for their warm support. “Thank you for taking me to buy something to wear,” he said. “Thank you to all of you.” Most of all, Amanda and Jaco would like to thank their son Raldo. “Thank you, son, for calling us when you did and saving our lives,” said Amanda. “If we had been where we were five minutes before we got out, we would not be alive today.”
They need everything now. Furniture, linen, curtains, crockery, cutlery, electrical appliances, food, money for personal items, chronic medication and clothing. All the small or large extra things that people take for granted are needed, as well as cash donations of any size. If you want to help directly, please contact Amanda at 0662 710 606 or Meisie at 082 661 8303. Donations can be deposited with Bergcare at ABSA Bank Louis Trichardt, savings account number 9132025836 using the reference STEENEKAMP HULP.
Jo joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in 2018 pursuing a career in journalism after many years of writing fiction and non-fiction for other sectors.