Disaster in Northern Cape as fire destroys rangelands

A 12-day fire destroyed 215 000ha on the Ghaap plateau in the Northern Cape last month, leaving stricken farmers with no grazing. Annelie Coleman reports.

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The Northern Cape provincial agriculture department has made R2,75 million interim disaster aid available to farmers in the fire-ravaged Ghaap area. Early indications were that at least 60 cows died and 215 000ha was destroyed in the fire that lasted nearly 12 days last month. The funds have been made available to buy and transport animal feed.

Agri Northern Cape earlier received R20 000 from the Senwes Fire Disaster Fund to help with transport costs of donated feed. Agri Northern Cape has also applied to have the region declared an official disaster area. “This is, in my opinion, one of the worst disasters ever in the Northern Cape,” Ghaap Agricultural Union chairman Kobus Gouws said. Interim disaster aid will be used to supply animal feed to farmers. Agri Northern Cape is conducting an assessment of the extent of the fire, in order to apply for further government disaster aid.

The Ghaap farmers urgently needed support in the form of animal feed and grazing, Gouws said. “Although support is flowing in from other farmers and even from agri-businesses, we need as much animal feed as we can get to tide us over until the veld has recovered sufficiently. Many of the affected farmers have lost all or most of their grazing. In my case I’m left with only 500ha in patches here and there on my farm.”

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He said the situation was aggravated by the lack of support from the Northern Cape disaster management structures. Gouws said that although farmers were not in control of the forces of nature, management of the outcomes of disasters such as the Ghaap fire should be possible. “We needed support from the local disaster management structures. It saddens me to say that we were treated with utter disdain by the disaster management officials responsible for our area.

“One of them actually laughed in my face when I tried to bring the severity of the situation to his attention. To arrive on the scene of the fire and find a disaster management official drinking brandy and coke is scandalous. There is no way that we will leave the situation as it is and will address this as a matter of urgency with the relevant authorities.”

A member of Disaster Management in the Frances Baard municipality, who wished to remain anonymous, denied the allegations and said the local disaster management structures had done all they could to mitigate the effect of the fires and were instrumental in deploying helicopters to combat the fires. He said he was concerned that the unfounded allegations might impact on their relationship with farmers.

Working on Fire ground operations manager for the Free State and Northern Cape Willem van Aswegen said wind speeds of up to 71km/h, high temperatures and the large amounts of very dry vegetation added fuel to the runaway fire. All farmers, farm workers and their families affected by the Ghaap fire were invited to a church service at the Koopmansfontein Research Station on 30 November. The service was organised by the Dutch Reformed congregations from Reivilo, Delportshoop and Daniëlskuil. Councillors were available to help people who needed trauma counselling.

Contributions to the Ghaap Relief Fund can be paid to Standard Bank, Kimberley, account number 143828037, or phone Corinne van Rensburg of Agri Northern Cape on 053 832 9595.

Fire heroes honoured

The Free State’s Ventersburg and Hennenman agricultural associations sent gift packs worth R500 to two farm workers, Arrie Meyer and Andries Ditone who were instrumental in saving their employer, Johan du Bruyn, from the Ghaap fires. Du Bruyn, former Springbok rugby player and owner of the farm Palmietfontein, suffered second degree burns to his legs and hands. His wife said he was recovering in hospital where he is in a serious but stable condition. Free State agriculture representative, Jimmy Kemp of Hennenman, said the gifts were a token of appreciation for Meyer’s and Ditone’s selflessness and dedication to Du Bruyn.