After 18 months of suspension, during which he received full pay, Knysna’s Municipal Manager, Dr Sitembele Wiseman Vatala, has finally resigned, giving the local authority the opportunity to at last fill this important post on a permanent rather than acting basis.
Said Christopher Bezuidenhoudt, spokesperson for Knysna Municipality, “We can confirm that the Executive Mayor received Dr Vatala’s resignation on Saturday, 21 August 2021. Dr Vatala has taken up the position of Municipal Manager at the Central Karoo District Municipality. His resignation will serve before the Council at a Special Council Meeting on Wednesday 25 August for further deliberation on the disciplinary matter.”
Dr Vatala’s suspension has cost the local taxpayers a vast amount of money, with a monthly salary of R115 000+ paid in full for the 18 months (whilst an ‘Acting’ Municipal Manager has also had to be paid), plus hundreds of thousands of Rands in legal costs (unfortunately the Municipality were unable to provide the official figure at the time of going to press). Yet, still, questions are being asked as to whether or not Council should accept the Municipal Manager’s resignation in Wednesday’s meeting and move on, or continue taking appropriate legal steps against him.
Whilst a cut and dry departure of Dr Vatala might save further legal expenditure on the matter for Knysna; many believe that in the bigger picture, if Council believes he is guilty of any misconduct, allowing him to move on to another post in another municipality would be setting a dangerous precedent, adding another nail in the coffin of good governance.
Indeed, in March 2019, when it was first announced that Dr Vatala had been appointed as Knysna’s new Municipal Manager for a three-year term, a quick online search revealed that the previous year he had left Emalahleni Municipality in Mpumalanga under a dark cloud. However, it seems that because the allegations raised against him (irregular appointments and nepotism reported in the Dispatch Live in December 2018) had not ultimately resulted in charges of misconduct, they did not affect his application for Knysna’s top post.
Less than a year after his appointment in Knysna, Dr Vatala was placed on precautionary suspension following a Special Council Meeting on 13 February 2020 due to allegations levelled against him. At the same time it came to light that Knysna Municipality had reportedly plunged from a projected R50 million cash surplus in November 2019 to a projected cash deficit of more than R200 million.
The Knysna Ratepayers Association claims to have played a major part in Vatala’s suspension. A statement made on their Facebook page at the time explained the reasons they were determined he should be brought to book.
“We became aware that properties to a value exceeding R60 million, that had previously been disclosed as Contingent Assets, had inexplicably been omitted from (Knysna Municipality’s) Annual Financial Statements by the CFO. The Municipal Manager, who is also the Accounting Officer, signed off on those statements. The Auditor General queried the removal of those assets and was provided with false and/or misleading information regarding their status. We submitted a complaint to Deputy Mayor Tsengwa against Dr Vatala in connection with this matter, as well as in connection with a tender that should have been awarded to a local company, but was unlawfully awarded to a company from out of town that had tendered a price R3 million higher than the local company.”
When the Deputy Executive Mayor Councillor Aubrey Tsengwa announced Dr Vatala’s suspension at the Special Council Meeting of Feb 2020, he said that Council would appoint an independent investigator and the Municipal Manager would be on suspension for the duration of the investigation.
“The investigator must submit its findings to the Municipal Council within 30 days,” Tsengwa promised.
The process has clearly taken a good deal longer than expected and indeed substantially drained the coffers of our already cash-strapped local authority. We look forward to bringing you details of Council’s decision on the matter, and indeed to the future appointment of a new Municipal Manager.
Watch this space.

A little over 13 months after a Rockhopper Penguin washed up on Cola Beach in July 2020, this week, a rare Antarctic Fur Seal was stranded a few hundred metres from the same site beneath the towering fossilised cliffs.
Marine Biologist Mark Dixon of the Strandloper Project received a message from Joanne Scholtz, who had seen the injured seal on the beach east of the Cola Beach access stairs. Realizing that it was something different from the local Cape Fur Seal, Mark shared images with a regional ‘stranded marine mammal’ group and Dr Greg Hoffmeyer from Bay World in Port Elizabeth. Confirmation came back that it was definitely a different species. In fact, a very exciting find of a rare Antarctic Fur Seal. According to Dr Hoffmeyer, this is only the eighth documented record of this species along the South African coastline and the second one within one month.
Research cogs started turning as the Strandloper Project was granted ‘approved agent’ status to allow them to capture the seal, which, like all washed up and stranded marine mammals, is protected by DAFF legislation preventing unauthorized handling or possession of any marine mammal species.
The first task was to assess the seal’s size and condition before arranging its capture and transportation to Bay World for veterinary treatment and rehabilitation prior to release. The seal was obviously seriously undernourished, as witnessed by the ‘dipped space’ between the rear of the head and the shoulder ‘hump’.
“In a healthy, well-fed seal, it would be a solid profile of blubber, which would be both a source of thermal protection and energy reserves,” explained Mark. He added that the tracks leading up from the beach to the shady area at the cliff base where the seal was resting indicated that it was unable to use its rear flippers for propulsion, another indication that it was in poor condition.
Whilst Mark waited for the Bay World crew to arrive, the morning went smoothly with the seal sleeping for three hours and beach strollers stopping for a glimpse and to ask questions.
Then, half an hour before the anticipated arrival of the Bay World crew, it woke up, struggled into the sunlight and then headed down towards the surf zone in spurts.
If it had made it to the ocean, its chances of survival would have been very small, more likely non-existent. The following 25 minutes must have seemed comical to anyone watching, as the seal lunged for the ocean and Mark attempted to block it with a stick, simultaneously trying not to hurt it and avoid getting bitten. The two darted along the beach with the seal making sudden changes of direction to gain ground, right up until the team arrived with a crate.
Safely in the crate, it was loaded into a bakkie and sent off to PE. At Bay World, it will be treated for dehydration and fed a diet of fish.
“Their usual diet is Krill, squid and fish,” says Mark, “Before a seal is released, it has to reach a target weight according to its species and length. When it reaches this, it is taken 40 nautical miles out to sea and released into the Agulhas Current.”
Telemetry from previously released seals has shown that, in the current, they move approximately 200km/day and will take nearly 25 days to reach their home range down south.
“This vital rescue of a rare vagrant wouldn’t have been possible without the network of concerned and observant local residents, authorized rescuers and an experience institution,” reflected Mark.
If you find a seal on the beach, determine whether they are just resting or are in poor condition. Remain at a distance that does not intimidate or disturb them and take a horizontal photo. Then contact the local stranding group or authority.

There’s been no vote or even selection process, but The EDGE Team can only stand in awe of the work that Martie Rooi does in the community, so as August is National Women’s Month – we pay tribute to this selfless lady.
Indeed, when we interviewed her on Monday’s National Women’s Day public holiday, Martie mentioned that it had been a busy weekend for her, and she hadn’t been able to get more than an hour’s sleep on Saturday night. When we pushed her for more detail, we learned she had given medical attention to no less than nine stab victims!
Most of what Martie does goes unrecorded because she is the sort of person that just gets on with what needs to be done, without any thought for any accolades for herself. She has been described as Smutsville’s ‘Florence Nightingale’ but could equally be seen as the community’s very own Mother Theresa.
Martie wears many community hats, but the biggest has to be heading up Smutsville’s First Aid Crew, which is run literally on her front stoep. For the last three decades, she has been tending to the wounded, the sick, the aged and even those giving birth, without thought for her own safety, never mind any compensation.
Indeed a few years back, The EDGE reported on an incident in which Martie was tending to a man who had been badly wounded by a group of men who had attacked him in a bar brawl. He had escaped and made his way to Martie’s home, but whilst she was trying to bandage his wounds, his attackers rushed in to try and finish him off.

But this and many other incidents that she has dealt with over the years has not put her off.
“Sometimes I get frustrated, and I say I am going to stop,” she says, “But then the next day people come, and I just start again.” It seems her faith plays a major role in keeping her strength and spirits up, as she glances heavenward, smiles and says, “I have got someone looking out for me!”
When patients arrive at her home, Martie has to decide whether they need more medical attention than she is qualified to give. If they do, then she calls the ambulance from Knysna. Indeed, the paramedics have realised over the years that when Martie calls, it must be something that needs swift attention.
“The ambulance people know me by name,” she laughs, “I have a hotline to them!”
Whilst she worked alone for many years, Martie says she now enjoys the support of other members of the First Aid Crew, including Selina du Plessis, Rachel Harker and a thirteen-year-old boy Eddie Kasanya who has decided to learn everything he can from Martie and is proving to be a great help to her.
She is also very grateful for the ongoing assistance she receives from the community at large – by donating into her very active pharmacy account or dropping off goods at her home.
One would think that her being unofficially ‘on call’ practically every night, Martie’s days would be spent catching up on sleep, but no. Martie has other selfless duties she attends to.
She works as a care-worker for Masithandane, is the community contact person for Fresh Start’s ‘Helping Hands’ – which identifies and assists community members with particular needs – and she also runs her own soup kitchen, mainly for children.
During our interview, it became very evident that this amazing lady holds a special place in the local children’s hearts, with so many coming along, especially to say hello.
Martie laughed, “When we do a street or house clean up, they often come to offer help,” she said, “And if we haven’t done one in a while, they come to me asking, ‘When can we come and clean with you again?’!”
And as if she hasn’t got enough on her plate, Martie is currently looking for over-locking machines to start a new job-creation project – a sewing circle to provide an income for unemployed women.
When asked her age, Martie grinned mischievously, saying it isn’t something everyone needs to know. But she certainly isn’t setting any date for retirement in any form.
She simply said, “I will stop when the Lord says I must stop.”.

Sedgefield’s local anti-crime groups are making efforts to ensure that a dangerous suspect who was recently arrested by Knysna Police be kept incarcerated until his court case is concluded.
Last week Knysna Detectives made a major breakthrough when investigators – deployed to bring perpetrators of serious and violent crimes to book – arrested 34-year-old Ashwill Harvey at Sedgefield on Monday, 19 July 2021. His arrest was linked to the robbery and assault of a woman on Cola Beach on Sunday evening.
Investigation into this incident revealed that the 33-year-old woman (name withheld) parked her vehicle at the Cola Beach car park and went for a stroll on the beach at about 18:40 when she was accosted by the suspect. It is further alleged that he forced her into the bushes, where he assaulted her and tied her up.
He took her personal belongings, including her car keys and her small dog, before leaving the scene. He then proceeded to take the victim’s Volkswagen Polo and drive off.
Though the victim sustained head injuries during the ordeal, she managed to make her way to a house over the road from the car park and ask for help
After alerting the authorities, the homeowner got in his car and pursued the suspect. It was fortunate that the suspect was not driving fast at all, and soon the Polo was spotted by the pursuers along Claude Urban Drive. They caught up and forced the suspect off the road, at which point he got out and fled on foot. The homeowner was able to swiftly return the dog to the victim.
Harvey’s freedom was short-lived when investigators tracked him down to Smutsville, where he was arrested late on Monday afternoon. The suspect remained in custody and appeared in the Knysna Magistrates’ court on Wednesday, 21 July 2021, facing charges of robbery with aggravating circumstances and theft of a motor vehicle.
During that court appearance Harvey was remanded in custody and is expected to be in court again on 30 July 2021.
Meanwhile, Sedgefield’s COP (Community Orientated Policing) and local Neighbourhood Watch groups circulated a petition for locals to sign. The petition asks the court to oppose bail for Harvey and keep him in the custody of the Department of Correctional Services until his trial date. This due to fear for the general safety of residents should he be released until the date of his trial.
This request to the court is further underlined by the fact that the same man was arrested in 2019 for a similar attack on a young woman along the same beach. The victim of that crime confirmed that she had been in court earlier this year for Harvey’s trial, but as far as she knew, the case was still ongoing. She was unaware of the new case against the same man.
We asked if the police could comment on the connection of the two cases, but they remained tight-lipped for now, pending Harvey’s future court appearances.
“This office is not in a position to respond to previous cases. Matters pertaining to previous arrests as well as convictions would be dealt with during the formal bail application,” Sergeant Chris Spies of the SAPS Communications Department said in a statement.
Meanwhile, investigation into the latest case continues, and we have it on good authority that the victim is recovering well and her dog is fine.

(Picture: Stacks of timber illegally harvested from private land on Cloud 9. )

LANDOWNER ASKS QUESTIONS AS TO WHY NO ARRESTS WERE MADE

There was much alarm and consternation amongst the residents of ‘Cloud 9’ hill on the northern side of Sedgefield, when on 15 July, a group was discovered illegally stripping private property of an estimated R90 000 worth of timber.

It must be pointed out that this crime was not a case of a few subsistence firewood cutters trying to eke out a living, but a seemingly well-organised operation involving approximately 15 men, three tractors and a number of bakkies. An estimated 2,5 hectares of private land was harvested of pine in a short space of time, and logging trucks from at least one timber transport company had to be used to move the timber. Furthermore, the theft was perpetrated after permission had been denied, in no uncertain terms, by the owner of the land, Kurt Wucherpfennig.
According to one resident, who asked that his name be withheld, all of the land on the much-loved ‘Cloud 9’ ridge is privately owned. The residents have, on occasion, permitted two small groups of people to cut firewood.“But only blue gum and wattle, and only in very specific areas,” he explained, “While we understood their needs and wanted to accommodate them, we made sure that very strict protocols were followed whenever permission was requested so that it could not turn into a free-for-all or become a threat to our security.”

On 7 July, the same resident had been approached by two of the regular firewood cutters, asking if they could cut pine on a specific site. As it wasn’t his land and belonged to the Wucherpfennigs, the resident said he would ask the landowner on their behalf.
“Mr Wucherpfennig’s response was a very clear NO,” he said, “So I passed this on to the cutters and made sure they read the message.”

The owner later explained, “I declined the request to harvest wood as I am in the process of paying a company to submit a maintenance strategy to the Municipality which will require specific harvesting areas and firebreaks – so I did not want random harvesting to take place.”
So once this permission had been declined, it was presumed that would be the end of the matter. But clearly, it wasn’t.

Fortunately, the residents of the small community living along the ridge do tend to look out for one another, so on Thursday 15 July, when another resident (who also asked for his name to be withheld) came across the large team cutting logs on the Wucherpfennig land, he stopped to find out what was going on.
“A huge amount of timber had been harvested. There were stacks of logs waiting to be transported and at least twenty men working on the site. I could see three tractors and a number of bakkies,” he told us later. He approached one of the men and asked what they were doing and if they had permission. The man’s response left him feeling that it wasn’t safe to hang around.
“He got very aggressive and said that because it wasn’t my land, I could not stop them.”

After quickly taking pictures on his cell phone, the resident left the site. However, he wasted no time in making contact with the landowner, who fortunately happened to be in the area.
“I was on my way back to Cape Town from East London and had stopped off in Knysna for a few days to visit friends when I was alerted to the theft taking place on my property,” he explained.

The owner swiftly contacted the police, whilst another resident called ADT for assistance. Within two hours, the resident and the owner, along with police members in a SAPS van, and a number of security personnel in four ADT vans, swooped in on the site. They found the illegal timber harvesting was still in progress.

The working men were confronted by the men in uniform and ordered to stop what they were doing, but no arrests were made.
“I couldn’t believe it,” the resident told us later, “These men were caught red-handed, but not one of them was taken into custody.”

Instead, the SAPS members ordered the cutters off the site, instructing them to leave the cut timber and all the machinery and vehicles precisely as they were.
“We were even more surprised when the SAPS members suggested to the owner that opening a police case wouldn’t be worthwhile,” the resident informed us, “It was clear and blatant theft.”
Mr Wucherpfennig confirmed this.
“The police were more concerned about whether I had proof of ownership of the property on me,” he said, “But who carries their title deeds with them?”

The police members also asked him why there was no visible private property signage.
The owner hadn’t thought this necessary.
”The community often walk dogs or cycle on the property, which I have had no problem with up until now. We did have a gate some years back which was stolen.” he told us.
As far as he was concerned – this line of questioning from the police was simply deflecting from the theft that was going on on his land.

“Their whole approach was very passive and somewhat frustrating. I had to literally argue with one of the sergeants as well as one of the constables and insist on laying charges, despite the culprits being caught red-handed,” he said. “Perhaps that is why – despite the warning not to remove any of the wood that had been cut – the culprits felt emboldened to finish the job.”

Indeed the following morning, when he returned to the site, he found two of the three tractors had been taken away, as had a whole lot of the harvested logs. The remaining tractor was damaged, which was why, he presumed, it had been left behind.
Later that day, the owner was at the bottom of the ‘Cloud 9’ road meeting his neighbour to discuss firebreaks, when a truckload of timber came down the hill. They stopped it to chat to the driver and established it had come from the Wucherpfennig property and that at least four loads had already been removed.
“I couldn’t believe that despite their run-in with the police, the woodcutters had no fear of being held to account,” he said.

Since then, he has been regularly calling the police about the case but is yet to be contacted by the investigating officer.

We contacted the Knysna Police to enquire why no arrests had been made at the time, and if any had been made since. We received the following comment from spokesperson Sergeant Chris Spies.
“Knysna Detectives are investigating a case of theft with regards to this matter. Investigation into this case is ongoing.
“The allegations pertaining to police conduct must be reported to the Knysna SAPS station management for an investigation to be instituted.”

At time of going to press, The EDGE Team is filled with an almost overwhelming sadness over the dark time that South Africa is currently going through. The carnage going on elsewhere in the country is not local news, but it affects each and every one of us. We hope above hope that by the time this newspaper is on the streets, the lawlessness that has resulted in so many deaths and so much destruction – physical and emotional – will be coming to an end.

Lord have mercy.

But whilst we all feel helpless, there is something that we can do to help. We can start by not spreading fear. Fear often leads to anger, and anger often leads to words – written or spoken – that cannot be unsaid. Fear can break the bonds we have holding our community together.

We can try not to blame anyone other than those committing the crimes, those who are destroying and stealing. We can make an effort not to vent our anger on people who might just be dealing with this in a different way to us. We can remember that on either end of every discussion, post or exchange of words is a human, just like us.

We can be kind to everyone we speak to, whether on social media, on the phone or in person, and remember they are also stressed. They might also have family in one of those areas.

We can think twice before sharing or forwarding stuff. We can ask will it help? Is it absolutely true? And more importantly, is it necessary?

We can not let the current situation rob us of our hope.

Our heartfelt condolences go to those families who have lost loved ones, and the many, many folk who have lost property, their businesses and their place of work. We so look forward to the time that these riots will be part of our country’s very chequered past rather than its current reality.

And we WILL get there, because South Africans are nothing if not resilient.

One of the beautiful surfboard benches at Buffalo Bay Picture by Rose Bilbrough

A trip to Buffalo Bay has always been well worth it, but now this tiny little section of our community has even more to complement its backdrop of blue waters and crashing waves – this thanks to the initiative launched by Visit Knysna and the Knysna Art Society, and grabbed with both hands by the Buffalo Bay residents, under the leadership of their Ratepayers Chair Vera Carstens.
The beachfront has undergone a complete make-over, with a quirky twist that pushes the ‘Buffs’ personality that Garden Route locals know and love.
The original plan for Buffalo Bay was to install a series of surfboards painted by local artists to create a “boardwalk”, but as news of the project reached Buffs’ townsfolk, they climbed on board in a big way and the project snowballed wonderfully.
With true community spirit, funds for more materials were raised, and soon, all the old benches and five cement braais were repaired and revamped by a “Blitz” team of ladies with seemingly endless enthusiasm (and a whole lot of mosaics). Now each of the braais has its own unique character, artistically stylised surfboards have been fixed to the backs of the benches, and local cartoonist Pieter Kruger has created a giant wave mural on the ablutions block.
The rail bridge on the road to Buffs is also being refreshed.
“It has been such a wonderful example of community teamwork,” reflects Knysna Art Society, Chair Helena Gerber.

There’s no doubt that our restaurants and coffee shops are amongst the businesses hardest hit by the tight Level 4 lock-down regulations, what with no patron seating allowed and no alcoholic drinks to be sold, they have to rely purely on take-aways.

Fortunately, the kind-hearted Sedgefield community has embarked on a social media drive, calling everyone to support their favourite eateries whenever possible – just to make sure they are still in business when the lock-down is lifted.

Go on! Whether it’s a simple cup of coffee to go, or a delicious three-course evening meal delivered to your front door, there is a wide range of affordable choices in Sedgefield, tasty enough to tantalise any take-away palate.

Residents aged 60 years and over are urged to have their COVID-19 vaccination after making sure they are registered on the Government Portal vaccine.enroll.health.gov.za. Various vaccination points are open around Knysna, with the Sedgefield Clinic administering doses this week on Wednesday 30 June, Thursday 1 July and Friday 1 July, and next week on Monday 5 July, Thursday 8 July and Friday 9 July. They will be accepting 50 appointment vaccinations and 50 walk-ins each day.
“The rate of infection is increasing dramatically in Greater Knysna,” said Acting Municipal Manager Dawid Adonis. “Where we had zero recorded active cases just a few short weeks ago, 165 active cases had been recorded by Thursday 24 June. Only three days later, this number had jumped to 211 active cases by Sunday 27 June.”
The Department of Health recorded a spike of 60 new infections in Knysna from 21 to 24 June. “Knysna recorded 27 new active cases in less than 24-hours between Wednesday and Thursday last week alone,” said Adonis. “This sudden jump is a frightening indicator of what may lie ahead of us if we do not act now and strictly adhere to the newly imposed amended Level 4 lockdown regulations.”
“We have gone beyond asking our residents to stay safe,” said Adonis. “We are now pleading with you to do all you can to curb the spread of this deadly virus. Please, do not wait to be placed under Level 5 of lockdown again, stay away from gatherings – even attending a book club or stokvel meeting during this time could prove dangerous or deadly and is prohibited.”
Public halls and sports facilities will be closed, and no more than 50 people are allowed to attend a funeral or cemetery at the same time. Beaches and parks are still open, but no gatherings will be allowed at either. “At a district level, we will ask the SAPS to assist us in enforcing these public protocols if necessary,” Adonis confirmed. “Museums and libraries are closed to patrons, but those who require assistance in registering for their vaccines may still visit any of our libraries to do so.”
“All essential services will be rendered. However, certain municipal buildings are closed to the public unless per prior appointment. The banking hall of the customer care centre remains open for the time being,” he continued. “We are also implementing more stringent internal prevention measures. All Council and administrative meetings will take place virtually, and we will ensure that our staff adhere to internal regulations and safety measures.”
“Please register to receive your vaccine as soon as you can and be sure to attend your appointment at the specified location, on the specified day, in the appointed time slot,” Adonis concluded. “We all knew that this pandemic would be with us for the foreseeable future, and we all knew that we would have to change our behaviour to keep ourselves, others and our economy safe. Please act responsibly and help us to keep Knysna inclusive, innovative, inspired and safe.” As of 1 July people 50 years and older may register for the Covid vaccine on vaccine.enroll.health.gov.za.

The Swartvlei flamingos frolicking in the lagoon – captured by the lens of Sedgefield photographer André Victor.

The Swartvlei Lagoon is currently enjoying some exotic visitors in the form of a small flock of immature flamingos. The members of this juvenile group of specialist feeders have huddled together to kick up the soft silt of Swartvlei and scoop up the generous servings of crustaceans – sitting at just the right water level for their specific needs.
This activity is referred to as ‘agitation feeding’. The renegade flock (teenagers do like to explore) may hail from any number of larger groups of the species. None of them are being officially tracked and traced, but they could come from the West, Mossel Bay, the East, Paradise Beach (Jeffrey’s Bay) or even Kimberley in the Northern Cape. According to a local ornithologist, Mark Dixon, it’s not outlandish to think that they could fly overnight from The Big Hole, feast all day, fly back, gather up more of their family and pop down again for another day of good eating. The juvenile flamingos are paler than their fully-fledged adult counterparts and will take on the attractive pink hue as they mature and imbibe more beta carotene through their diets. As the salinity stabilizes in Swartvlei, now that the river mouth has been breached, they will soon move on to search for the tasty morsels that they enjoy so much. Nature is amazing and ever-changing, and those of us who live in Sedgefield have front-row seats!