Farmers to the rescue after devastating fires

The Colesberg farmers who lost 60 000ha to 70 000ha to wildfires earlier this month have been inundated with support from the rest of the country.

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The Colesberg farmers who lost 60 000ha to 70 000ha to wildfires earlier this month have been inundated with support from the rest of the country.

“We’re overwhelmed by the spontaneous acts of kindness from our co-farmers after the fires that destroyed nearly 20% of the Colesberg district,” said Clem Olivier, chairperson of the Colesberg District Farmers Union.

“Donations of animal feed are streaming in from as far as Bothaville, Cookhouse and Bredasdorp. Nearly 80 farmers worked day and night to fight the fires. Some 40 of them were from Colesberg, but the rest came from as far afield as Bethulie, Middelburg and Phillipolis. This means much more to us than just the donations of animal feed. It means there are people who actually care and who are prepared to support us.

“We need all the support we can get. A total of 33 farms were affected by the fire, of which six or seven farms lost between 80% and 100% of their grazing. One person lost his life and 800 livestock, mainly sheep, were killed.”

The fire front stretched over roughly 60km. Four farms in the neighbouring Eastern Cape district of Venterstad also fell victim to the fire. “The livestock losses were relatively small but we will feel the effect on grazing for a very long time,” said Olivier. “The grasses will take one and a half seasons to regenerate but the shrub lands take five to seven years.

“We can’t supply the animal feed indefinitely, and I’m concerned about what will happen after the donations stop. We haven’t had any spring rains following a bitterly cold winter.” The cause of the fire is still unknown. One possibility is that the fire was caused by sparks from train wheels, but there are indications of arson, said Olivier. The fire on one farm started shortly after a farmer denied wood cutters access to his farm.

“Although I can’t expand on the matter, it seems the fires could be linked to a certain political grouping in Colesberg which claims that white farmers illegally obtained their land from the groups’ forefathers,” Olivier said. “The reality of the destruction is now sinking in and we need to stay calm and positive. The devastation is indescribable.” – Annelie Coleman

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