South Africa — The farming sector in KwaZulu-Natal has been dealt a financial blow, with Melmoth alone suffering a loss of about R263-million as a result of raging veld fires.
The president of the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union, Robin Barnsley, said although the union had not had feedback from all areas, timber razed ran into millions of rands while the death of livestock amounted to hundreds of thousands of rands.
“In Melmoth, more than 5 000ha of timber was destroyed, 120ha of sugar cane and about 3ha to 4ha of avocadoes,” he said.
He added that two tractors and one bakkie were burned.The loss of the timber would increase the already huge shortage of timber for industry and export being experienced.
At Underberg, 200ha of veld belonging to Sappi and Mondi was destroyed, while 1 000 sheep with burns had to be destroyed at Waggerstroom, in far northern KZN.
At Winterton, a piggery caught alight and 170 pigs were killed, and more than 1 000ha of veld and timber was destroyed at Dargle, near Howick.
In Ntambanana, more than 10 000ha, including 144 homes, was destroyed. Communal farmers and people living in trust areas were severely affected.
Zululand Fire Protection Services operations manager Trevor Wilson reported that fires had ravaged more than 6 500ha of commercial timber and sugar cane plantations, including traditional grazing areas, at Babanango and Melmoth in Zululand over the weekend.
“People must please not light fires that they cannot control in open areas. It is a criminal offence to light a fire on your property that may spread to neighbouring properties,” he said.
Wilson said the prospect of rain was minimal.
“The wind has dropped now and hopefully we will have a 12-hour window to contain the fires that are still burning.”
Melmoth protection services officer Derek Horne said he was awaiting a decision by Premier S’bu Ndebele to declare the area a disaster area.
Affected areas include several rural settlements, south of Melmoth, where 12 people reportedly burned to death as flames engulfed the area.
“We are expecting this number to rise as people return to the burnt areas they fled.
“Our concern now is to get funding for food and blankets to assist the people who have been evacuated and now have nowhere to go. The Red Cross only has limited reserves,” he said. Horne said while most of the fires had been brought under control by 4am on Monday, several had flared up again by the afternoon.
Barnsley said apart from commercial livestock, much game had also been wiped out.
He was concerned that disaster relief would not be paid out timeously, adding that farmers had still not been compensated after devastating fires last year.
Money had been paid to the agriculture department, which had not compensated farmers, Barnsley said.
He added that it was taking a long time for the government to fund firefighting aircraft to douse fires.
Another worry was that a government awareness programme to introduce a fire campaign in rural areas, informing people what to do during fires, had not materialised.