COUNCIL ADDRESSES AVAILABILITY CHARGES FOR FIRE VICTIMS

At the Special Council meeting held Tuesday 17 July, Executive Mayor, Mark Willemse, tabled an item to review the availability charges levied on properties destroyed in last year’s fire.

The June 2017 fire disaster, the most catastrophic in the country’s history, left many destroyed properties in its wake. In an effort to provide relief to fire victims, Council resolved in August 2017 to waive the rates payable on these properties.

In terms of the municipal rates policy, these properties were then reclassified as vacant and consequently charged availability charges in terms of the approved council tariffs. Availability charges are generally higher than residential and is aimed to encourage owners to build as soon as possible. These charges are implemented by all municipalities in the country.

However, it was never the intention of the council to penalize fire victims. Having listened to various submissions from individuals and organisations, Council instructed the administration to prepare a review on these charges.

Tuesday’s decision seeks to rectify Council’s intentions. The impact of the resolution is as follows:

  1. Availability charges raised will be waived for the 2017/18 financial year on those properties that were totally destroyed by the fire;
  2. These properties will be charged as if they were residential properties (i.e as they were before the fire);
  3. A credit will be passed for the difference, and
  4. Where the property has been sold, the credit will be payable to the previous owner of the property.

The municipality promotes working together to create an environment that is responsive, accountable, effective and efficient for local communities.

LOCALS UNITE TO ADDRESS HOUSING

Though there was much negativity surrounding the Smutsville housing riots of last month, one positive result is that the greater Sedgefield community has unified in common determination to address the issue.
Sedgefield residents from all walks of life have been meeting in attempts to plan a way forward for the community, particularly in relation to the delivery of land for housing in Smutsville by local, provincial and national government.
Whilst the riots of last month were certainly the catalyst that brought this humanitarian problem to the fore, non-delivery of housing in Smutsville is definitely not a new issue. Indeed, as members of the ‘Lank Gewag’ group will attest, the protest action only erupted when decades of sitting patiently on official waiting lists produced no results.
Since the dark day that was 15 June, when Smutsville became a war zone in battle with riot police, and surrounding suburbs faced the terrifying sight of burning tyres rolling down the dune, there has followed a determined effort to understand all facets of the land and housing problem, and various discussion groups have been formed to engage with affected community members.
Whilst there has been much exchanging of ideas as all the differing angles of this problem are identified, the common agreement has been that government needs to act sooner rather than later, and that the greater Sedgefield community should do everything in its power to ensure this happens and that the municipality puts top priority on the process.
It is made obvious by comments on social media and various WhatsApp groups that the topic is still a very sensitive one, but for the most part, the view that the village – including Smutsville /Sizamile – is ONE SEDGEFIELD, has become the mantra that is pulling everyone together.
Meanwhile, following the site visit of Human Settlements Provincial Minister Bonginkosi Madikizela and meetings with Knysna Municipality, the Lank Gewag Committee representing the Smutsville Community have been getting mixed messages as to whether or not certain Municipal land in that area could be occupied. They say the Minister had given them the go-ahead, but the municipal officials had overturned this decision.
When they asked the minister for clarity he despatched the WC Chief Director of Human Settlements Phila Mayisela to meet with the committee in situ. After visiting the area and spending time with the Lank Gewag members, Mayisela eventually asked that she be given until 23 July to facilitate a solution. They have agreed to her request and await her positive response.
The ONE SEDGEFIELD group has meanwhile begun its campaign to ensure the community’s concerns are recognised and responded to as a matter of urgency by the Municipality and Provincial Government.
NB: A public meeting with Democratic Alliance Western Cape MEC Alan Winde, Political Head of Knysna Constituency, is to be held at 18h00 for 18h30 at Sedgefield Town Hall on Wednesday 11 July (the date of this publication).

A GIANT FAREWELL

by Melanie Baumeister
On Friday 29 June a wounded juvenile Humpback whale beached itself on the shores of Sedgefield between Swartvlei and The river-mouth, causing a heartfelt stir amongst our local, nature-loving community.
Almost immediately on site was scientific guide and marine biologist, Mark Dixon, who was able to confirm the extent of the whale’s injuries and, as it turned out, record the sad farewell of this immense mammal. According to the very moving footage posted on You-Tube the same day by Mark, the young creature sang its last song just before 14h00.
On Saturday 30 June, Cape Nature and SANParks conducted biometric measurements and biopsy sampling – skin, blubber and muscle samples were taken from the back, tail and wound area. Baleen (the whale’s mouth) samples were taken from the upper jaw and various length measurements were made with an overall length of 8.83m being recorded. The wounds, though not confirmed by forensic examination, did indicate possible Orca Whale or shark attack.
There have been numerous public enquiries as to why the animal was not dissected to check for stomach contents – and while there is a pressing need to check if plastic ingestion contributed to the death of the whale, there are some good reasons as to why this would not be viable: Permissions from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), the South African authority which has jurisdiction over marine animals, are notoriously hard to acquire – it is almost impossible to get as an individual and it would be up to an organisation to submit a permit request.
Since the beaching occurred on a Friday the weekend became a bureaucratic obstacle too. As for experienced personnel to perform the operation – one was overseas at an international conference and the other unavailable. Even with red tape aside, the position and size of the creature would have made such a dissection logistically challenging and very expensive to even attempt.
As a result, it was decided to bury the whale where she lay, on Friday 6 July. In a combined exercise by SANParks and Knysna Municipality, a pit was excavated and the carcass laid to rest. Two earth moving machines were used, a front-end loader and a TLB compacting the sand at the base after the pit was dug. Then, in a series of manoeuvres, the carcass was rolled into the hole and covered up. Proceedings started at 10h00 and finished at 12h15.
It was noted before the whale was buried that part of the tail and a fin had been clandestinely removed from the carcass. While it is unsure whether this was for traditional medicine, illegal wildlife trade or simply as a souvenir, whoever did it came well prepared and knew what they were doing. Cuts on the tail and around the pectoral region indicated they knew where to cut between the joints to avoid sawing through bone, suggesting that this isn’t the work of a souvenir collector.
Sadness aside, from an educational point of view the presence of the whale carcass has been an ideal learning experience, with some schools arranging trips to see the huge mammal. Even during the burial, two groups arrived to learn about whales in particular and the dangers of plastics to our environment. In the passing of this magnificent young creature, Sedgefielders have had the opportunity to observe a marine event right up close and personal.
The Edge would like to extend our thanks to Mark Dixon of Garden Route Trails for providing us with all the necessary information, and for his communications with all the parties involved so that the community could be kept abreast of events as they happened.

A DAY NO-ONE WILL FORGET

It is hoped that an agreement between the Smutsville community and Knysna Municipality, with input from the Western Cape Minister of Human Settlements Bonginkosi Madikizela, will calm residents and prevent a reoccurrence of the recent riots in Sedgefield. This said, nothing has been finalised yet, and proposals originally made may well have changed, so the entire community waits with bated breath.
Friday 15 June 2018 will surely be remembered by Sedgefield residents as the day things very nearly fell apart. It was a day of anger, a day of violence, commotion, and emotionally charged frustration. It was also a day that boiling points were reached and where misunderstanding fuelled animosity and a great deal of distrust.
Burning tyres, blocked roads, clashes with riot police, tear gas, rubber bullets – these are not things that Sedgefielders can relate to, being a community that for the most part lives in peace with one another. So the chaos of that day has left many shocked and bewildered as to how it could have happened.
In the weeks before, a housing protest by a number of residents in a group called ‘Lank Gewag’ got the ball rolling. Earlier in the month they had started marking out plots on Municipal property on the southern side of the dune above the Smutsville School. This was after decades of sitting on housing waiting lists and listening to what they describe as empty promises from municipal representatives. Even then, when their unofficial demarcation got the attention of the Municipality, the members agreed to halt any construction pending a meeting with the Municipal Housing Department set for five days later.
But the cancellation of this meeting was the final straw, and the group decided to escalate their campaign to get their voices heard. On the evening of Thursday 8 June they started mobilising members to join a ‘toi toi’. Tyres were lit at the intersection of Volstruis and Oestervanger, the entrance to Smutsville, and the group immediately had the attention of local law enforcement.
“But we still wanted it to be a peaceful protest,” one of the Lank Gewag committee members later told us.
Fearing the worst, local authorities called in back-up including SAPS members from the Crime Prevention Unit. No-one is sure who spooked who in the early hours of the next morning, but the first ‘shots’ – either tear gas canisters or rubber bullets – were reportedly heard at 4.48am and from then on things very quickly got out of hand. The demonstration quickly degenerated into an all-out riot, resulting in injury, damage to property and, perhaps less visible but no less important, the serious damage of trust and relationships.
It was a recipe for disaster. The numbers of angry residents grew as the community became more and more incensed by the huge police presence, which soon included the armed and armoured members of Public Order Police Service (riot police). The streets of Smutsville/Sizamile became a war zone. Rocks were thrown by adrenaline charged, adolescents who seemed fearless in the face of the authorities, whilst volleys of rubber bullets and teargas from the riot police were indiscriminate.
In a quieter moment, journalists on the scene were shown doors to family homes that had been kicked down, one resident describing how she had stood in front of her handicapped son when the riot police had burst in shooting. Another, on the other side of Smutsville and still dressed in her pajamas, complained that her eight month old baby was battling to breathe after a teargas canister had landed on their property whilst they were still in bed.
Residents showed welts and bruises where they had been shot with rubber bullets, some numerous times. Many claimed they had had nothing to do with the riot – but had still fallen victim to the SAPS members’ determined ‘all or nothing’ approach.
“We took a beating. Smutsville took a serious beating,” one community leader later told us.
Meanwhile, Sedgefield residents living in the Groenvallei and Meedingsride areas watched in horror and no small amount of panic, as protesters – mostly adolescents – set tyres on fire and attempted to roll them down the hill towards the homes below. One man threw a burning mattress down whilst others, realising the bush was too thick to let the tyres through, started throwing petrol bombs. Police members, Security tactical teams and COP volunteers fought hard to get the youngsters, who seemed bent on destruction, off the dune whilst firefighters, with the assistance of the ‘Working on Fire’ helicopter, managed to extinguish the flames.
In Smutsville seven people had been arrested and were in custody. Whilst there seemed to be no more shooting there was still a great deal of anger and frustration. Eventually, it was down to a standoff on Oestervanger Street, with members of the community filling the road and car park outside the USAVE shopping centre, and the armed riot police forming a human wall across the road further down.
The arrival of Mayor Mark Willemse, and Municipal Manager Kam Chetty did little to calm the crowd down, and though the mayor listened to the demands presented by the community, which included the release of the protesters in custody, the crowd was too fired up to take heed of his attempts to explain the process forward. When it became clear that those arrested would remain in custody, the protesters bristled even more, and as the Mayor walked back to his vehicle with a police escort, a stone was thrown in his direction. In retaliation, the riot police immediately opened fire at the crowd.
Pandemonium ensued. As residents young and old scrambled to get out of the line of fire, people stumbled and tripped over one another. Some fell as they were hit by rubber bullets, others were trampled underfoot in the melee. Probably the worst injured was Doreen Nguma (53) whose leg was totally snapped just above the ankle. As the chaos moved past her into Smutsville the ambulance could come in and whisk her off to hospital. At the time of going to press she is still there.
Things eventually became calmer, though there were isolated incidents of unrest for the rest of the day.
The following morning, whilst the greater Sedgefield community was still reeling in shock, it seemed some good news for the Smutsvillers finally arrived in the form of Western Cape Minister of Human Settlements Bonginkosi Madikizela. He and Knysna Municipality’s Housing Manager Mawethu Penxa met with a committee of residents and together they went to the various potential housing sites around Smutsville.
Madikizela told the committee that the municipal land behind the school – which had been earmarked by ‘Lank Gewag’ – was available for the residents to put up their informal homes, as long as they agreed to allow space for services to be put in at a later date, planning for which would be demarcated by the municipality.

This was confirmed at a meeting two days later in which the Lank Gewag committee sat with Penxa and members of his team. Housing waiting lists were also discussed – with a plan to ‘clean them up’ for accuracy, so that the correct amount of beneficiaries could be ascertained. The committee gave the municipality until Saturday 30th June to finalise the plan.

A follow-up meeting was held a week later (25 June), and whilst the committee was not prepared to tell the media what changes or new proposals were put on the table by the municipality, it was evident that all was not well. Rather than release any information themselves, they have requested that the Municipal Manager and other relevant officials attend the public meeting at 7pm on 27 June (the date of this publication) to explain to the community exactly what the plan is.

MAYORAL CONTROVERSY

(Picture: New Knysna Executive Mayor Mark Willemse (right) with new Deputy Mayor Elrick van Aswegan)

This last week has been an unprecedented time for local politics, with councillors voting for their opposition and party leadership instructing their newly elected mayor to resign.

At the time of going to press, the DA’s Councillor Mark Willemse was in his fifth day as the new Executive Mayor of Knysna. Whilst this could change any moment if the DA provincial leaders have their way, there are many local residents who are determined that he should stay, including members of the Knysna Ratepayers Association.

This turn of events started last week when a strategic move in Knysna Council Chambers ousted the then Mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies, and saw ANC and other opposition parties voting Willemse in to take her place.

This most extraordinary council meeting was held on Wednesday 6 June, with the agenda including approval of the IDP (Integrated Development Plan), Mayor Eleanore Bouw Spies’ presentation and the approval of the Annual Budget, and a ‘vote of no confidence’ in the Mayor, tabled by the ANC, who cited “failure to perform her duties and ensure service delivery in the greater Knysna area, and effective functioning of the council” as the reasons.

The meeting quickly turned into a political circus when the parties erupted into a shouting match, with neither side giving the other a chance to speak. DA Speaker Georlene Wolmarans could do little to control the goings on, because opposition councillors were determined to challenge her decision to keep the ‘vote of no confidence’ as the last item on the agenda.

They insisted that such an important item should be moved up to be addressed earlier, suggesting that a budget proposed by a Mayor who could lose her position on the same day simply didn’t make sense. But whilst the Speaker does have the authority to move items up and down the agenda, Wolmarans would have none of it, despite the continuous clamour from around the council table.

After several adjournments, including a meeting of the chief whips in an attempt to calm things down, and a caucus meeting for both the ANC and the DA, the ANC and other parties finally agreed to follow the agenda in its original format.

It seemed it was back to business as usual as Mayor Bouw-Spies presented the IDP and Budget, both of which were approved by council. But when the time came for the vote of no confidence, seven of the ten DA Councillors left the chambers, not wishing to take part in the vote. The three remaining were Speaker Georlene Wolmarans, ex Deputy Mayor Peter Myers, and Ward 9 Councillor Mark Willemse. A vote ensued and, with only Speaker Wolmarans voting against the motion, Bouw-Spies was officially no longer the Executive Mayor. The Speaker then left the chambers, and once the remaining councillors had voted in an ‘acting speaker’ , Willemse was elected Executive Mayor of Knysna, with COPE’s Ricky van Aswegan his Deputy.

This sent the DA’s top dogs into a total spin, with Western Cape leader, Bonginkosi Madikizela, vehemently labeling the affair as a ‘coup’, and accusing Willemse and Myers of colluding with the opposition for their own gain.
“It is protocol that when members of a caucus lose confidence in their Mayor, they notify the party in order to get concurrence to vote with their conscience. This is established practice to ensure that the party stays informed of its governments. It can never be acceptable for any member of the party to make such a decision without notifying the party on matters that have such huge ramifications as we’ve seen in Knysna,” he said in a press release issued from his office.

On Friday Madikizela and DA Provincial Chairperson Anton Bredell rushed through to meet with the Knysna DA Caucus, and have since put pressure on Willemse to resign from his new Mayoral post.
“(Willemse) is also the Eden District Speaker and therefore by law cannot accept a second executive position,” Madikizela’s press release stated, “Secondly, voting with your conscience becomes questionable if you are the direct beneficiary, which is the case here.”

But the only resignation letter the new Executive Mayor has tendered is for his position as Eden Speaker, which he handed in on Monday 11 June.

Willemse is certainly not without support, and it is quite evident that not everyone shares the DA hierarchy’s views on this issue. The new mayor’s appointment has been referred to as ‘A rare victory for democracy’ by the Knysna Ratepayers Association (KRA) who have publicly pledged their support for Willemse in the following statements.
“With two DA councillors against the nine of the opposition, the ANC could have taken over the town, yet remarkably councillors unanimously elected a DA Mayor. In doing so they proved that they had no self-interest and truly wanted to rescue Knysna from its poor leadership.”
“The only real opposition seems to be from DA’s masters in Cape Town. They would be well-advised to back off, and not to interfere. Intent on advancing the political fortunes of the former mayor, they have inexplicably turned a deaf ear to the complaints of Knysna’s residents for the past two years. Support for the DA in Knysna has evaporated during that period, but their masters in Cape Town have blithely ignored this.”
“Mayor Mark Willemse has our full confidence and support. We respect him for committing to his oath of office and for acting in the interest of Knysna. The support from the people of Knysna is overwhelming. The people’s message to Cape Town is clear: our town requires honest and principled leadership. We wish him strength for the task that awaits him.”

TAKING A STAND ON LAND

Thursday evening and Friday morning saw over 100 Smutsville residents each claiming part of a tract of municipal-owned land, and ‘marking their claim’ with building tape. The land in question being the large tract behind and to the left of the Smutsville School, bordering on the Smutsville cemetery.

With ‘land invasions’ being a controversial current topic which regularly makes national media headlines, other Sedgefield residents became convinced that this local action could be the start of something far more sinister, and it wasn’t long before a panic was raised on social media.

However, since then assurances have been given by those on the land that this is not what it seems. The group, who are calling themselves ‘Lank Gewag’, say that this is a challenge to the municipality to fast-track the allocation of land and the building of subsidised housing, especially to those who have been on waiting lists for so long. They claim that they are second and third generation residents of Smutsville who have listened to unfulfilled promises for decades.

“Some of us have been on these lists for over twenty years, and we are still camping in the backyards of our parents’ and grandparents’ homes,” explained Vemesia Galant, a born and bred Sedgefielder who is married with three children.

She is one of the ten-strong committee representing 104 Lank Gewag’ families. Andrew Solomons, the group’s spokesperson, gave more detail.
“So many people who have lived here their whole lives have patiently waited for housing, following the law and the process, but never getting anywhere,” he told us, “Meanwhile others have arrived, taken land illegally, and built informal houses.”

104 plots were marked out in the end, starting out on Thursday night and continuing on through Friday. On Saturday morning Municipal Law Enforcement visited the site and asked the people clearing if they could at least refrain from putting up any structures, pending a meeting with the Municipality’s Manager for Integrated Human Settlements Mawethu Penxa on Wednesday 13 June. Later Councillor Levael Davis arrived with the same request, and they agreed.

However the land committee were later informed that the meeting had been canceled as Penxa would be in Cape Town. Councillor Davies suggested a meeting on Tuesday, but only with the committee, but when this suggestion was put to the entire group they all challenged the idea, saying that if Penxa was available to meet with the committee – then why could he not meet with all of them?
“I phoned Levael to give him this instruction from the community, and he told me that the Wednesday meeting had not been confirmed. He said the matter was now out of his hands, and Mawethu (Penxa) would have to sort it out,” said Solomons.

After discussing this with all the Lank Gewag members on Monday evening, the decision was made for a petition to be delivered to the Municipal Manager, insisting that by 10am Thursday morning the Municipality should provide a concise plan for the immediate allocation of land for housing. If this did not happen the Lank Gewag group would meet again to decide what action they would take.

“There are subsidised houses being built all over Greater Knysna,” said Solomons, “But who can remember when last any were built here in Sedgefield?”

Asked for comment, the Knysna Municipal Manager said:
“The municipality is aware of the recent developments in Sedgefield (Ward 1). A housing meeting to discuss the integrated human settlements strategies and plans for the Ward has been scheduled for Monday 18 June 2018.

The municipality wishes to unequivocally state that it is opposed to any land invasions. We urge the community to refrain from any unlawful activity and we appeal to them to cooperate with the municipality in this regard.

Knysna Municipality will have no option but to enforce and uphold the law and will, therefore, be compelled to remove any illegal structures on invaded land.”

AMAZING RACERS COMPLETE EXPEDITION AFRICA

One of our regular contributors Nikki Smit spent last week in Namaqua, competing in the gruelling yet life-changing Expedition Africa as part of the team ‘Special Kind Of Idiots’. She and team-mates Zane Schmahl, Janine Linder and Jesse Tement completed the 530 km course in 136 hours 50 minutes and 9 seconds.
52 Adventure Racing teams from all over the world competed in this event, which included 347km of mountain biking, 160km of trekking and 50km of kayaking. Competitors faced extreme exhaustion as they battled across the most rugged of mountainous terrain including an approximate elevation gain of 9643metres. Sleep was snatched in brief pockets along the way, and supplies picked up at compulsory check points. The eventual winners were Russia’s Skylotec Adventure who completed the gruelling course in 82hours and 11minutes. Even they took a full day longer than the race organisers estimated.
See Nikki’s full story on page 5.

SPECTACULAR SEDGEFIELD IN COUNTRY LIFE

by Melanie Baumeister

Picture: The stunning view of Sedgefield from Cloud 9, kind courtesy of Conrad Ball.

Such is the beauty of Sedgefield at the moment, it is more than understandable that the ever-popular Country Life magazine has selected our village as ‘Town of the Month’, with no less than six pages of their June edition dedicated to showing us off.
Whilst everyone knows our town is beautiful all year round, it is even more so now. Indeed, since the turn of the season from Summer to Autumn (and soon Winter), many have remarked and appreciated the abundant display of Mother Nature’s decoration on our lagoon. The magnificent vibrant crimson, vermillion and red on the banks of the estuary of Swartvlei have caused many to pause and wonder at the origin, of this new beauty that has graced our shores.
The plant is Salicornia meyeriana Moss, more commonly known as Samphyre or Glasswort. It is a member of the succulent family and the species grows annually in estuaries from Namaqualand to Madagascar. It grows abundantly when there is a higher concentration of salt in the water, so when the mouth is open and the tide washes over it, it draws the saline up and displays its brilliant sunset hues.
Unfortunately, it will die back as the mouth closes naturally and fresh water levels increase.
There is anecdotal evidence that the young plants are edible, though as they become more ‘stick-like’ and go to seed they lose these apparently tasty qualities. In Spring they will turn to their more familiar green colour and the evidence of the fiery display will be a thing of the past.
Thanks to Dr. Mandy Lombard and Jonathan Britton (SANParks) for kindly assisting with information for this article.

NO SIGN OF MISSING MARIE

Marie Østbø, the 21 year old Norwegian girl who disappeared from Myoli Beach, Sedgefield, on Wednesday 18 April. 

Almost two weeks after the disappearance of Marie Sæter Østbø, the 21 year old Norwegian girl who disappeared from Myoli Beach on Wednesday 18 April, there is still no sign of her, or indeed any new evidence as to what happened.
Her family in Norway is understandably desperate for any news they can hang hope on, or in the very least some sort of closure. Likewise, the Sedgefield community is devastated, and so very heart-sore for the Østbø family. But with every day that goes by, it seems that the chances of finding her are getting less and less.
And whilst the search continues, unfortunately, so does the spread of misinformation and conjecture. With unsubstantiated ‘sightings’ of Marie in North West province being shared on social media, plus a false story of her body being washed up on the beach in Wilderness, and several versions of what has happened since she went missing being bandied around in local and international media, there is no doubt that family and friends of Marie must be desperately frustrated.
Gathering information and indeed confirmation from sources close to and within the organised search, we have ascertained the following details:
Marie arrived in Sedgefield, as part of a tour, at 17.30 on Wednesday 18 April. The group was due to stay at Afrovibe Back Packers near Myoli Beach. At approximately 18.10 a couple who were part of the tour, went for a walk on the beach, followed five minutes later, by Marie, who was walking alone.
As the wind was already blowing, the couple decided to head back fairly soon. They passed some way behind Marie who was sitting on the sand, facing the sea, but did not stop to call her. As they went up the dune they turned to take a photograph of her from the back. This was the last picture taken of the Norwegian girl before her disappearance.
15 to 20 minutes later, members of the group grew concerned as she had not come back to meet them for dinner at 19.00, as had been arranged. When Marie did not answer calls made to her phone, the tour guide went to the NSRI board in front of the beach and called the emergency number. It was 11 minutes past seven when the call was logged.
Realising there might be need for a search of both land and sea, a member of the NSRI contacted Sedgefield Community Orientated Policing (COP), suggesting they also respond to the scene.
Both NSRI and COP members arrived at Myoli at 19.32 and the search commenced. They were joined by SAPS K9 Search and Rescue, and also asked local security companies to check their clients’ homes in the area. SAPS meanwhile took statements from Marie’s friends, the tour guide and staff at PiliPili Beachfront Restaurant.
The NSRI crew searched the beach on quad bikes and 4×4 vehicles from Myoli beach, right up to Platbank, whilst COP members checked from the river mouth round to Myoli, then the dune, then Claude Urban Drive, including line searches of empty properties and construction sites. They also made door to door enquiries, as they believed Marie could have lost her bearings and sought shelter from the storm.
The weather was extremely bad and the seas exceptionally rough. Members of the search parties could barely hear each other above the wind, and visibility was very poor.
Just after midnight, COP volunteer Michael Simon and two SAPS members discovered a pair of white shoes, an iPhone and a white cap lying on the beach. They were not ‘in a neat pile’ as has since been reported, but approximately 2m apart. Whilst they may have been blown by the wind, they were above the high water mark and the phone was still working.
It was quickly ascertained by speaking to members of the tour group that the shoes and phone belonged to Marie, but the cap did not.
The search stopped at 02.00 and restarted at first light – 06.30. By this time it was all hands on deck. More members of SAPS, a Police Dive Unit, Metro Search and Rescue, EMS, the Community Police Forum, Wilderness Search and Rescue, Sedgefield Fire Department and the ASR/EMS Skymed rescue helicopter, arrived to join the K-9 Search and Rescue unit, NSRI Wilderness crew, COP, and Neighbourhood Watch members on the scene, and the search of both land and sea recommenced.
Efforts continued for the whole day, and the days to follow, with various people giving assistance, including the pilot of a motorised paraglider who undertook aerial patrols up and down the coast over the next four days.
When SAPS issued an official alert regarding the missing girl, there was unfortunately a discrepancy in the description of her clothing. Whilst the ‘Missing Person’ report said that she was wearing a white top and blue jeans, it has been confirmed by those on her tour group that she was actually in a dark blue floral top with black long pants. (See picture on page 3)
This mistake is thought to have been as a result of misreading the CCtv footage from the security camera at PiliPili beach bar, taken just before she left for the beach. According to a local CCtv consultant, infrared will show dark colours as light at night. When the footage was taken the infrared was already on as the light was fading, which had a confusing effect on the picture.
There has also been misinformation in some reports regarding Marie’s camera. Whilst it has been stated that she had it with her on the beach, it has been confirmed that the camera was left in her bedroom, where it was later found by SAPS.
Over the following weekend as the search continued to spread further, various members of Norwegian media arrived to report the story of their missing compatriot. Unfortunately there was little in the way of good news that could be offered to them.
On the following Monday a substantial aerial search was undertaken by a Working on Fire helicopter, with various organisational representantives on board. The chopper flight covered the length of the beach, dunes and shallows from Gericke’s Point to Knysna Heads, including over the Swartvlei Lagoon, and then following the rip tide parallel to the coast 2-3km out to sea, all the way to Buffalo Bay.
By Tuesday 24 April SAPS spokesperson Captain Malcolm Pojie was left with no choice but to advise the media that the search had to be scaled down.
“It has already been seven days since she was reported missing, so whilst we will resume the search, it will be a scaled down operation as far as our resources are concerned,” he said at the time.
(Continued on Page 3)
Mike Hofhuis, director of Safety and Security for Sedgefield Ratepayers and also the Chairperson of COP is convinced that the search has been comprehensive and has is covering as many bases as possible. “We wish to thank all the emergency services and community members for their assistance,” he said. “Specifically SAPS K9 Rescue, EMS Search & Rescue, NSRI, the Police Dive Unit and Sedgefield Fire Department.”
Hofhuis also cautioned members of the public to report any information they might receive to the relevant authorities, rather than on social media. “In the interests of Marie’s family and friends, please refrain from speculation, or even sharing speculation of others.”
Sedgefield Neighbourhood Watch Chairperson Michael Simon, who was one of the first responders on the scene and on the forefront of the search effort, declined to comment on what may or may not have happened due to the sensitivity of the case. “I do hope that there is closure soon for her family and friends in Norway in what must be a very difficult time for them,” he said.

SEARCH FOR MISSING FOREIGN STUDENT DOWNSCALED

At 11 o’clock on Tuesday 24 April, the South African Police Service held an impromptu press briefing at Myoli Beach, regarding the missing Norwegian girl Marie Ostbo (21). The basic message given by Communications Officer Captain Malcolm Poje, was that the ongoing search had, as yet, still not produced any clue of the whereabouts of the missing girl or indeed what had happened to her on Wednesday 18 April, and that the time had come to ‘downscale’ search efforts.

“It has already been seven days since she was reported missing, so whilst we will resume the search tomorrow, it will be a scaled down operation as far as our resources are concerned,” he said.

Marie, who arrived in Sedgefield with a group of international student tourists on Wednesday, 18th April, has been missing since approximately 19h00 that evening, after failing to return home from a walk on the beach with friends. Reportedly, when the weather started turning, the others in her party had headed off the beach for shelter and only realised that Marie hadn’t returned to the back-packers a short while later. When they couldn’t locate her, the authorities were called and a search ensued.

During this search, a cell phone and shoes belonging to Marie were located and recovered by Police on the beach in the early hours of the following morning. The SA Police Services, Community Police, a Police K-9 Search and Rescue Unit, a Police Dive Unit, WC Government Health EMS, WSAR (Wilderness Search and Rescue), the ASR/EMS Skymed rescue helicopter, NSRI Wilderness crew, and Neighbourhood Watch members have been combing the area on both land and sea since then, but without success.

At the press briefing held in the Myoli Beach car park, Captain Poje told local and foreign journalists that SAPS do not suspect any foul play at this stage and that currently, the evidence points towards a sea drowning. They will, however, continue to treat the scene as a crime scene and investigate any future leads. When asked if the public release of the missing girl’s picture on Monday 23 April had provided any fresh information, Poje said this had produced several lines of inquiry, all of which had been followed up on.  Sadly no positive results were forthcoming.
POJE warned that if the girl has indeed drowned, her body may well wash up quite a way along the coastline.

Police continue to appeal to anyone with information that can assist in this case to call Knysna Police at 044-3026600.