Hoping against hope

Let me tell you what true helplessness is. It’s not merely an emotion or a feeling – it’s something palpable, something you can see and smell, and hear.

Especially when you have to sort out the weakest cattle in your herd to be sent to slaughter because of the relentless drought. And there’s simply nothing else you can do.

No amount of animal feed, lick or maize stover will pull these animals through until it rains. The worst part is going to bed at night and wondering if you shouldn’t have kept them. What if it rains tomorrow?

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Some places in the Free State, North West and Northern Cape resemble a moon landscape. There’s nothing left. The veld is bare. Parts of the summer rainfall areas in Calvinia, Loeriesfontein, Brandvlei and Pofadder have had virtually no rain for the past three years.

You don’t need a hell of a lot of imagination to picture what that looks like!

Animals in the North West have weakened to such an extent that they can barely stand anymore. Free State farmers are forced to thin out flocks and herds drastically.

Grain producers are in anguish too. The days are ticking by and the last day of the optimum planting period is obstinately creeping closer and closer. But the skies remain barren and empty.

These lands and people have been sucked dry by the burning sun and scorching winds. Both have become tired and listless. I’ve seen young men grow old and old men grow older in a matter of months. Ja Boet, Godverlate, Godforsaken…

But farmers have honed the skill of hoping against hope to a fine art. They are the ones who wake up every morning with a firm belief that the rains are near. That it will rain within the next week or so. Perpetual optimists, that’s what they are.

“Farmers will plant, even up to 40 December,” says Agri North West’s Cor Janse van Vuuren defiantly.

Annelie Coleman represents Farmer’s Weekly in the Free State, North West and Northern Cape. Agriculture is in her blood. She grew up on a maize farm in the Wesselsbron district where her brother is still continuing with the family business. Annelie is passionate about the area she works in and calls it ‘God’s own country’. She’s particularly interested in beef cattle farming, especially with the indigenous African breeds. She’s an avid reader and owns a comprehensive collection of Africana covering hunting in colonial Africa, missionary history of same period, as well as Rhodesian literature.