Zimbabwe — Tsholotsho-Traditional leaders from Tsholotsho district in Matabeleland North province have warned of stiffer penalties on anyone found guilty of triggering veldt fires.
Speaking during a veldt fire-fighting demonstration programme at Khalani village under Chief Tategulu recently, the chiefs said they would impose penalties of up to a beast for offenders.
“We have agreed that anyone who starts a veldt fire should pay a beast. As custodians of the land we have the right to do that in order to protect the environment,” said Chief Gampu.
He was seconded by Chief Siphoso who said communities should be given powers to punish people who start veldt fires.
“It is true that offenders would be forced to pay a beast for starting a veldt fire. Even if the offenders would be tried in a court of law, we will also have to punish them as a community, as a deterrent measure.”
As enshrined in the Constitution under the Traditional Leaders Act Chapter 29:7, chiefs and headman are mandated to preside over environmental issues and reprimand environmental law offenders.
Speaking at the same occasion, Tsholotsho district forestry extension officer, Iyazi Mlilo, urged communities to guard against veldt fires.
He said communities should form fire-fighting teams and work with the officials from the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) to control veldt fires.
Recently the ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Management through EMA, has been conducting massive campaigns against veldt fires and equipping communities with techniques on how to reduce them.
Veld fires are a common feature during the winter season and have been blamed for destroying vegetation and killing wild animals and causing loss of human life.
About 950 000 hectares of land were destroyed by veldt fires in 2009 while in 2010 the number rose to 1,1 million hectares.
Matabeleland South was ranked as the province with the biggest stretch of land destroyed by veldt fire last year resulting in loss of human and animal life as well as destruction of infrastructure.
The most affected districts were Insiza, Umzingwane, Matobo and Gwanda where a combined 96 000 hectares of land was destroyed by fire.
Matopos Rock Motel and Old Bulawayo on the outskirts of Bulawayo were destroyed while 11 elephants were burnt to death at Debsham Farm in Insiza district.
The same fire spread to the Midlands Province where a school pupil was burnt to death in the Vungu resettlement area of Gweru district.
Among the major causes of veldt fires are honey gathering and hunting, clearing of fields for agricultural purposes and failure to control lit fires.