In the minutes after the Blinkwater lodge in the Kalahari caught fire, Hendri Carstens and Frans Davin braved the flames in a last-ditch attempt to save their children
The Carstens, Bauer and Davin families, all living in the Witzenberg region, were staying in the lodge when the wooden structure caught fire shortly after 01:00, trapping several people inside.
Herman Botha, close family friend of the three families, told News24 that Hendri and Frans’s heroic effort left them injured and that they had to be airlifted to hospital.
Hendri, 38, died hours later, while Frans was still battling severe burn wounds in hospital.
“They did what any father would do in that situation, they put their lives on the line for the sake of their children,” Botha said. “We thank God for them.”
Hendri’s wife Dane, 36, and their children Pierre Johan, 5, and Magiel, 3, succumbed to the flames on that fateful morning.
Close family friend Stefan Bauer, 39, and his daughters Inge, 7, and Elre, 4, also died from the fire. He’s survived by his wife Madelein.
And Frans’s children Frans, 5, and Iza, 3 also died.
Die tragedie wat hom in die Kalahari afgespeel het toe die Blinkwater-lodge Sondagoggend afgebrand het, het ’n negende slagoffer geëis. @anenabphoto ➡️ https://t.co/9Kd595aav3 pic.twitter.com/KT8KTLImTI
— DieBurgerOosKaap (@DieBurgerOK) August 17, 2020
On Monday morning, the Witzenberg community in the rural Western Cape were slowly coming to terms with the loss of the three men and their children who have all been described as kind, righteous and God-fearing people.
Flags in the region flew at half mast, while WhatsApp messages were doing the rounds asking people to pray for Frans’s recovery, and for comfort for the family’s relatives.
Die soektog na Inge Bauer (7), wat steeds vermis is nadat die Blinkwater-lodge in die Kalahari Sondagoggend afgebrand het, is vroeg Maandagoggend hervat. @anenabphoto ➡️ https://t.co/8sH4CQBImI pic.twitter.com/RJtNC2HxcX
— Netwerk24 (@Netwerk24) August 17, 2020
Koue Bokkeveld Primary School, where Inge was a pupil, and Gericke Primary School, which Pierre Johan attended, expressed condolences with the tragic loss of the children.
Koue Bokkeveld primary school principal Pieter de Bruyn said: “[Their death] leaves us all extremely heartbroken, with questions that no one can answer.”
He added: “May the Lord carry us all through this time.”
Ligstraaltjie pre-primary school principal Marlene Slabbert told News24 that the loss of the parents and children left a void in the close-knit community.
Frans and Pierre Johan attended the school, and Slabbert bought the school from Frans and Iza’s mother Wilmien about a year ago. The school was closed on Monday and again on Tuesday.
“I would always remember how the children played together, they were really each others’ best friends and would always jump from excitement when they saw each other,” Slabbert said.
“Little Frans always rolled his Rs like a typical farmer. He wasn’t the most outgoing boy, but he was friendly with everyone. And Pierre Johan was a soft-natured boy who really cared about everyone around him.”
Slabbert said she remembered Magiel would always hang on his mother Dane and when she put him down, he would say: “Just give me to aunty Lenna,” before running to her.
News24 reported that the Carstens, Bauer and Davin families were part of a tour group of several in the community who frequently went away together.
Botha, who worked with Hendri at agricultural group Witzenberg properties, said when he told his own children of the fire and the deaths, they just cried.
Hendri was also known by his nickname Hennas.
Botha was a best man at Hendri’s wedding, and the two had studied together with Stefan at the Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute in Stellenbosch.
The last he heard from Stefan and Hendri was when they posted a photo on Saturday afternoon on an Elsenburg alumni group, holding beers with the caption: “Laat hy val waar hy will (Let it fall where it wants to)’.
“You know, my children lost their best friends, and I have lost mine,” Botha told News24.
In a response penned by a group of their closest friends, they said the families would always hold church together on Sundays when they were away, the children diligently listening.
“They were not only our friends, but our family,” the friends, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
“They said it takes a village to raise a child. This was our village and these were our children.”
The friends said they would remember Stefan for being someone always ready with a joke, who could be trusted to make a plan to fix something.
Stefan was a production manager on the farm Kromfontein at the Du Toit’s agriculture group.
“We still remember how you would say: ‘Come, let me make it better for everyone, what can I spoil you with?’ Who’s now going to make life better for us, friend?”
Of his children, they said Inge always loved a good story, but it had to have a twist, and Elre was obsessed with animals.
Kallie du Plessis, who was Hendri’s manager at the Dennekruin in the Witzenberg valley, said he would remember the family who lived on the farm as some of the kindest people.
“Before they left for the lodge last week Friday my wife took two 2 litre ice cream containers to the children for the road,” Du Plessis told News24.
“It’s the kind of thing we do on the farms, we live close to each other and we always check in on each other.”
Du Plessis said Hendri’s children Pierre Johan and Magiel were extremely close to him, and he would frequently go cycling with Hendri.
“The children would often ride with me on the motorcycle. When the lockdown started they played cricket the entire day, non-stop. And when there was a big machine starting up on the fields they always wanted to ride on top to see how it works.”
He said he never saw Dane angry, and that she did an incredible job to raise well-mannered boys.