Charity rises from Swan Lodge’s ashes

Swan Lodge, one of the oldest buildings in Kommetjie, is a ruin after a fire broke out there in the early hours of Saturday November 20.

Nola Oosthuizen believes a late-night bath very likely saved her life when Kommetjie’s Swan Lodge went up in flames.

If she hadn’t taken the bath when she did, she says, she would have taken her usual sleeping pill and possibly not heard the gas bottles at the back of the building exploding in the early hours of Saturday morning November 20.

Ms Oosthuizen, 60, is one of the owners of the historic building, and while she escaped with her life on that fateful day, she lost a lifetime’s worth of family heirlooms and everything she ever owned.

“I am grateful to be alive, that I have my three Yorkies, but I literally left that flat with a bra, a pair of pants, and a gown.”

She first thought someone was trying to break into one of the shops, but she saw a haze of flames when she looked out the window.

In the ensuing panic, she says, the lights in her flat went out, and all she had time to do was grab some paperwork, including her will, next to her bed, her dogs and handbag before dashing out into the night.

Her flat was the last to burn, but she stood in the road with the gathering crowd, watching with despair as the legacy her father left her and her siblings went up in flames.

“My dad was Pierre Crowther Oosthuizen. He was a professional golfer. He left this building, which he had loved and nurtured, to my brothers and I when he passed away in 2010. It was just devastating, watching her burn. I say her, but that building had presence, she had history in her walls.”

Seeing the fire engines arrive kindled a hope in her that the blaze would be doused and the building would survive, she says.

“I was sure that the building could be, would be, saved. I thought at worst I would sleep in the car overnight and access the damage in the morning, but then the first flat went, and the second, and I was just yelling, ’Do something, do something to make it stop’.’”

She recalls someone telling her that it wasn’t a movie. She says she still can’t believe that it’s all gone.

Ms Oosthuizen was living in the flat temporarily, along with all her belongings, as she had sold her home, and was looking to buy a property along the Garden Route.

“When I move, eventually, I will be walking into my new place with a small bag of toiletries and my dogs,” she says.

“All the family jewels and solid furniture, a Gabriel de Jongh painting, all the photographs, letters, all the knick-knacks that make a home and tell a story, all gone.”

And none of it is insured, she says.

A fund-raiser to help the other tenants is being finalised, and she is staying with her daughter for the moment, she says.

Dannie Espitalier, of RE/MAX, says the other tenants who lost all their worldly possessions are Mamun Khan, his family of three and two staff; and Sue Sumner, who is recently widowed.

“The south peninsula community and businesses have really come together and we are up to R94 000 for the fund-raiser.“

The fund was to be closed by the end of the work day on Tuesday November 30. The final amount will be announced and then distributed among the residents who lost everything.

Kommetjie resident Mary Anne Potts praised RE/MAX for their fund-raising. “They are one of the businesses who had to move out of their premises as their business is in a part of the building which is structurally unsound. So it’s exceptionally generous of them to do all this for the fire victims when they themselves have been affected. This is greatly appreciated.“

She said that after the funds have been distributed, Kommetjie Community Action Network, of which she is a member, will review the situation to see what further help can be provided.