The DA has urged Northern Cape Premier Dr Zamani Saul and Minister of Defence Thandi Modise to address the destruction caused by runaway fires in the Kalahari after a fire was believed to have originated within the Lohatlha Military Base.
BY MONDAY, 70,000 hectares of arable land stretching from Kathu to Daniëlskuil in the Northern Cape had been destroyed by runaway fires, affecting more than 45 farms..
However, the DA in the Province said it was shocked to discover that two new firefighting vehicles donated a while ago to municipal authorities were allegedly not allowed to be used to extinguish the fires.
Volunteers helped to ensure that the fires didn’t cause even greater devastation, DA Northern Cape constituency head of Kalahari Willie Aucamp said on Tuesday.
After numerous unanswered calls to members of the Northern Cape provincial government, the DA in the Province has urged Premier Zamani Saul to address the destruction of runaway fires in the Kalahari, Aucamp said.
“When authorities were asked by farmers to deploy these vehicles, it was said that the vehicles cannot be used before a photo was taken with the mayor. This is utterly unacceptable. A photo opportunity cannot supersede the lives and livelihoods of our farming communities,’’ Aucamp said.
The fires are believed to have originated within the Lohatlha Military Base on Sunday and worsened because the army’s fire breaks, built four years ago, were not maintained by the base, Aucamp said.
’’Failure to maintain fire breaks in these drought-prone conditions is criminal negligence,’’ he added.
DA defence spokesperson Kobus Marais is due to escalate the matter to Minister of Defence Thandi Modise.
“We hope that she prioritises efforts to extinguish fires and assists farmers in distribution of water and fodder.
“Considering the impact of ongoing droughts, the loss of thousands of hectares is a crisis. If government continues to turn a blind eye, this crisis will escalate into a catastrophe for agriculture and food security.
“Neither the MEC for Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Mase Manopole, nor the MEC for Co-operative Governance, Bentley Vass, were available on Monday when I tried to alert them.
“The DA suggests that government needs to co-ordinate firefighting efforts with groups like Working on Fire for greater support, including resources like helicopters.
“If it wasn’t for the tireless efforts of volunteers, like the DA’s aspirant candidate Andre Schoeman from Rhino Security, the fires would have caused even greater devastation. We applaud the volunteers.
“But it is worrying that whenever a crisis occurs, communities are left to fend for themselves without assistance or support from government,’’ Aucamp said.
According to the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs, Rural Development and Land Reform, only one farmhouse was completely destroyed by the fires in the John Taolo Gaetsewe (JTG) District.
The runaway veld fires started on Saturday morning between Kuruman and Danielskuil and more than 40 farms in the area were affected.
Department spokesperson Zandisile Luphahla explained on Wednesday that the fires spread to the Lohatla Military Base and jumped the borders to neighbouring farms, between Lohatla and the Danïelskuil road, during the afternoon.
“More than five farms were affected by the fires near the Lohatla Military Base. From the first sign of fire, all possible measures were jointly undertaken by the department and stakeholders to extinguish the fire,” said Luphahla.
He added that the JTG Disaster Management Centre, local farmer unions, Ga Segonyana and Gamagara local municipalities, the JTG District Municipality, the mining sector, fire protection associations and the Lohatla Military Base assisted in putting out the blaze.
“So far, only one farmhouse was completely destroyed by the fires. Some of the farmworkers and land owners had to vacate their households for safety. Several livestock were lost and some were rescued. No human lives were lost or injuries reported.”
Luphahla added that MEC Manopole had dispatched a team from the John Taolo Gaetsewe District and extension officers to determine the extent of the damages.
“The MEC has further undertaken to assist farmers affected by the fires by providing them with fodder for their animals.
“In instances when there is massive loss of grazing land, the department provides fodder that will be dispatched to affected farmers. We so far have about 500 bales of fodder stored at the Vaalharts fodder bank. Upon receiving a report on the level of the damaged grazing land and affected farms, we will dispatch the fodder. ”
Manopole has meanwhile urged motorists and pedestrians not to throw away cigarette butts while driving or walking or bottles into the veld as it could cause runaway fires.
The public is urged to contact the following district managers in the event of veld fire outbreaks:
John Taolo Gaetsewe District – Patrick Tonyane – 082 559 5948
ZF Mgcawu District – Christo Smit – 082 559 6778
Pixley ka Seme District – Ntombi Mokgalagadi – 082 559 7289
Namakwa District – Darren Engelbrecht – 082 560 8855
Frances Baard District – Lilian Senosi – 082 559 6648