South Africa – Parts of the Midlands which have been razed by the worstrunaway fires in the region in 25 years could be declared a disaster area.
Agriculture and Environmental Affairs MEC Mtholephi Mthimkhulu will recommendthis to Premier S’bu Ndebele.
This would enable the government to use funds that are available for disasteraid.
Emergency humanitarian assistance has already been provided to some strickenpeople by local disaster management teams, in conjunction with the SocialWelfare department and charitable organisations such as Gift of the Givers.
Mthimkhulu’s spokesperson, Mbulelo Baloyi, said on Sunday that the MEC – who hadconducted an aerial tour of the fire-ravaged districts and met affected parties,including organised agriculture, on Friday – had been concerned and touched bythe plight of those whose land had been razed and who had lost property.
Mthimkhulu was also worried about the enormous long-term economic implicationsthe fires had for the province, where organised agriculture had so far incurredlosses estimated at more than R1-billion. Final reports were still being drafted.
Baloyi said the decision on whether to ask President Thabo Mbeki to declare theMidlands a disaster area would rest with the office of the premier.
The agriculture department was already liaising closely with the Social Welfareand home affairs departments to offer speedy assistance to people who had losttheir identity documents and pension cards when their homes had gone up inflames.
Baloyi said the fire was believed to have originated in the Karkloof area,apparently near a small settlement where it is thought locals had been burning apile of rubbish.
Fanned by winds of up to 100km/h, the fire had raged out of control and hadspread rapidly, jumping fire breaks and roads.
Preliminary reports given to Mthimkhulu showed the areas that were hardest hitby the fires were the communal residential areas of Mafakathini and Maswazini,in Elandskop, and the farming districts of Yarrow, Curries Post, Karkloof, FortNottingham, Impendhle and Mid-Illovo.
“In the Mafakathini and Maswazini areas almost 1 990ha of forest landwere destroyed, as well as communal land. Two houses were also razed at Taylor’sHalt. In the Yarrow and Karkloof areas more than 5 000ha of forest land wasdestroyed, as were five houses belonging to labour tenants. Five commercialfarmers were also affected,” Baloyi said.
The reports said that more than 35 000ha of forest land had been destroyed inthe Curries Post and Karkloof districts, along with 5 000ha of grazing pastureand maize crops, 25 farm workers’ homes, 18 farm homesteads and a mushroom andvegetable farm. Losses of livestock and game animals were also reported.
It was estimated that more than 80 commercial farmers and more than 8 000 farmworkers had been affected by the fires. Services including electricity,telephones and water supplies had been affected, and many people had beenevacuated from their homes.
At Fort Nottingham and Impendhle, several homesteads had been burned to theground and several thousand hectares of communal land and timber had beendestroyed. At Mid-Illovo more than 4 000ha of sugar cane fields and timberplantations had been destroyed.