The portfolio committee on agriculture, land reform and rural development on Tuesday called on minister Thoko Didiza to declare the areas ravaged by the fires disaster areas.
Calls for the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development to declare fire-ravaged areas in the Free State and Northern Cape disaster zones have not yet yielded any results.
In the Transvaal Agricultural Union of South Africa’s (TLU SA) opinion, government has “once again” failed the agricultural community, it said in a statement on Wednesday.
Runaway fires burning since Sunday have destroyed embattled farming areas in Hertzogville, Hoopstad, Bulfontein and Dealesville in the Free State, and in the Majeng and Hartsvallei regions in the Frances Baard District near Warrenton in the Northern Cape.
According to TLU SA, grazing lands, animals, homes and farming equipment has been destroyed.
The blaze also left farmer Tewie Nel in a critical condition after he sustained second and third-degree burns, according to Netwerk24.
“When the government needs farmers, like during Covid-19 scare, we are simply the best, but when we need government’s help, there is only silence,” said chairman of TLU SA in the Free State, Bertus van der Westhuizen.
Due to government’s lack of action, van der Westhuizen told The Citizen on Thursday that farmers have now stepped in to help their neighbours.
“Government needs to declare this a disaster and send help. We have a State, the military, and aviation equipment. The SANDF South African National Defence Force can help with tankers for water.
“This is equipment paid for by taxpayers, but it stands and rusts instead of being used.”
He also expressed disappointment in reactions to fires in the Cape region, explaining that when wildfires break out, airplanes are used to drop water on the affected areas.
“But when fires burn in farming regions, government is quiet.
“A farmer is close to his animals, and to have them die like this is heartbreaking. Usually when fires break out, farmers clip the fences first, but the animals often don’t know where to go, so they are burnt alive.”
Van der Westhuizen said getting information on the extent of the damage caused by the fires is difficult, but confirmed that “farmers now have nothing.”
“Houses, equipment, crops, animals… everything is gone.”
The Free State Agriculture Organisation indicated on Wednesday that as much as 100,000 hectares of land in the province have been destroyed so far.
Working on Fire confirmed their teams are at the scene of the fires.
Northern Cape MEC for Agriculture, Environmental Affairs, Land Reform and Rural Development, Mase Manopole, on Wednesday issued a statement calling on communities “to be vigilant when dealing with the persistent veld fire that continues to destroy grazing land and killing livestock in the province.”
Monopole confirmed the provincial disaster management centre is “working very closely” with the district disaster management centre to bring the fires under control.
The Department said it would release emergency fodder to assist affected farmers to continue feeding their animals, thanks to combined efforts from AgriNK, Saam Werk Saam Trek, the National African Farmers Union, and the African Farmers Association of South Africa.
Officials have also reportedly been dispatched to assess the damage and the affected farmers.
The portfolio committee on agriculture, land reform and rural development on Tuesday called on minister Thoko Didiza to declare the areas ravaged by the fires disaster areas as well.
In addition, the committee commended farmers and communities “for saving lives and ensuring that there are no casualties, and for acting swiftly to prevent further devastation and decimation of property.”
“We trust that the investigation will rule out the possibility of arson as it is inconceivable why anyone would want to cause such widespread destruction”, committee chairperson Nkozi Zwelivelile Mandela said.
Attempts to reach the Free State agriculture, land reform and rural development department have so far been unsuccessful.
If you would like to help support farmers in need, TLU SA has provided a list of what they need right now:
- Broad-spectrum antibiotics and other veterinary medicine;
- Energy licks such as molasses meal and/or lick blocks;
- Hay, crop stover, maize and any roughage;
- Any grazing that might be available;
- Poles, wire and fencing material to repair damaged infrastructure;
- Plastic pipe for water reticulation;
- Fuel and transport for donations; and
- Funds to supply the above.
Financial contributions can also be made to TLU SA’s trauma fund account.
Residents and visitors in the Free State and Northern Cape areas are urged to be extremely cautious when cooking outdoors, as unpredictable wind directions could cause more wildfires. Remember to dispose of cigarette butts properly, and not to toss them out, as the current dry and hot conditions could also start more fires.
“We will continue to support farmers, members or not, when they need it.”
“Our most important task is to ensure farmers stay on their land safely and sustainably to produce for the agricultural needs of the country. We are committed to this.”
Updates on the fires to follow as more information is made available.