KZN farmers reeling from long-weekend wildfires

A series of wildfires around KwaZulu-Natal turned the Youth Day long weekend into one of devastation and mourning.

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According to statements from the KZN Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), at least six people died in wildfires over the weekend, four in the Kokstad area and two in the Vryheid area. 

According to Kwanalu, very early estimates were that in the Kokstad area alone about 25 000ha of agricultural land was razed, and about R2,2 million worth of cattle and about R600 000 worth of sheep were killed. Fires reportedly continue to burn there (as of 17 June).

On the afternoon of Tuesday, 17 June, Kwanalu CEO Sandy la Marque told Farmer’s Weekly that she was with various government leaders on a preliminary evaluation of the fire damage in the Kokstad area.

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“The affected areas here are quite widespread, but can currently be described as ranging from Kokstad to Cedarville,” said La Marque. “Other areas in the province that experienced fires this long weekend include the Swartberg, Newcastle, Vryheid, Utrecht, Paulpietersburg and Melmoth areas.”

According to reports, apart from causing the human and livestock deaths, the fires across the province also consumed grazing, crops, hay, timber plantations, homes, farming equipment and buildings. COGTA spokesperson Lennox Mabaso said in a statement that his department’s MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube, together with KZN MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development Cyril Xaba, were already in the Kokstad area to assess the situation and to lead the distribution of much-needed humanitarian relief to the victims of the fires.

“At this stage the cost impact of the overall disaster incidents cannot be confirmed as more detailed assessments are still being conducted to include the impact on the agriculture sector,” said Dube-Ncube.

Mabaso quoted Xaba as having “expressed sympathy with the farmers” and having described the incidents as a “setback to rural development as more money will be needed to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure”.

“He [Xaba] vowed to support the farmers with emergency feed until all processes have been concluded,” Mabaso’s statement added.