South Africa – Utter devastation, a sense of helplessness, the loss ofmaterial possession and dignity – these are the words being used to describe thefires that gutted many Midlands farms this week.
With 24 000-hectares of valuable plantations damaged, acute anger towardsthe uMgeni Municipality is emerging.
Farm owners and farming associations, counting the cost of a disaster from whichthey will probably never recover, have criticised the municipality for its”shoddy” disaster management action.
uMgeni Municipal Manager Dumisane Vilakazi was not available this week forcomment. He was at the ANC policy conference in Gauteng. No one else from themunicipality was authorised to comment.
On Friday, KwaZulu-Natal Agriculture and Environmental Affairs MEC MtholephiMthimkulu flew over Karkloof, Curry’s Post, Yarrow, Impendle and other affectedareas and said he would recommend it be declared a disaster area. But there hasbeen no decision yet from KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sibusiso Ndebele.
Ndebele, who returned to the province from the ANC conference, said on Saturdayhe still had to read the MEC’s report.
“(But) as soon as I read the report, I will have no hesitation in making arecommendation to the president to mobilise the help that needs to be sent outthere.”
Substantial government resources will be allocated to rebuilding the area if thepresident signs the declaration.
Farm owners now have until July 13 to complete farm damage assessments that haveto be handed to the MEC’s office for possible funding.
Howick District Landowners’ Association chairperson Bobby Hoole, oninvestigating the municipality’s fire brigade yesterday, said he was notsurprised to find that the state-of-the-art fire engine which had the capacityto hold 4 000-litres of water was still not functioning.
“During our rescue efforts we had to do without this engine, as we weretold it had a problem. The district municipality had to supply us with fireengines to help our efforts.
“When I visited the fire station, I was told that the fire engine was stillout of commission because there was a problem with the engine.
“Apparently this problem had seen the engine being out of use for two weeks.But in all that time, the municipality only had a mechanic come over to examineand assess the vehicle on Friday.
“This was the same vehicle that could not be used to help put out a housefire recently in Howick because it did not have a licence. If that was not alesson to learn from, surely this is.
“It seems the municipality has no disaster management plan that can beimplemented immediately. If it were not for the commercial firefighters, thedistrict municipality and the major commercial plantation firefighters’ help,this would have been much worse.”
Hoole said the uMgeni Municipality did not actively assist or participate infighting the fire. “It’s constant poor service. With the new property rates,one can’t help but think that we are feeding money into a bottomless bucket andgetting nothing in return.”
According to Hoole and others in the area, not one municipal officer was seen inthe area helping destitute families.
DA councillor Tim Lindsay White said the council met on Wednesday and it wasrecommended the disaster management policy be reviewed.
“This policy needs to be re-looked at urgently. Our condolences go out tothose who lost their lives and homes and thanks to those who faced the disasterto preserve property, lives and livestock.”
KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union president Robin Barnsley agreed that the uMgeniMunicipality was slow in its relief efforts. “There is a sense that theywere not well prepared. The budget has very little to contribute to disastermanagement.”