As fires have ravaged across areas of the Free Sate, North West and Northern Cape, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has called on the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to urgently declare and gazette a state of disaster for the fire-ridden areas of these three South African provinces.
It’s estimate that more than 200 000 ha have already been destroyed by fires on farms in these provinces.
In a statement on Friday, the DA said it has received reports that farmers and volunteers were still battling blazes at 04:00 this morning (Friday 23 Oct), with the strong winds fanning the flames and making it extremely difficult to extinguish.
“A declaration of a state of disaster will enable the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to be on standby to immediately assist when the fires flame up again and make helicopters and other vital equipment needed to fight these fires, available,” explained Annette Steyn, DA Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.
She says at the moment farmers and volunteers are having to drive for kilometers on end to refill their water tanks in order to fight the fires. “And there seems to be little help from municipalities in combatting the flames, leaving members of rural communities to face the danger and destruction on their own.”
While the parliamentary portfolio committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development has called for Agriculture Minister Thoko Didiza to declare a state of disaster, this unfortunately falls outside her mandate. The DA says it calls for Minister Didiza to engage with Minister Dlamini-Zuma as a matter of urgency to ensure that a state of disaster is proclaimed immediately so those affected can get the help they need to combat the fires urgently.
“Farmers must also be assisted with water and feeding for their animals and the restoration of infrastructure on the farms,” says Steyn.
“The purpose of a state of disaster is to provide immediate crucial aid, after all. Something that these provinces are in dire need of. But while the Ministers are taking their time, people and animals’ lives are in danger and thousands of hectares of land are destroyed daily.”
On 23 June 2020, the DA had already requested that the Free State provincial government to assist farmers during drought and in the event of fires. Instead volunteers in the Free State, Northern Cape and North West are currently facing the disaster on their own.
The DA is undertaking oversight inspections to these three provinces in the next three days to engage with farmers and volunteers locked in combating the disaster and to investigate claims that some South African Police Service (SAPS) stations are refusing to open cases of arson in these areas, says Steyn.
”The allegations that these fires were deliberately set need to be thoroughly investigated, and we welcome the arrests that have been made in this regard so far,” she says.
Yesterday, the DA laid criminal charges against the EFF Member of Parliament, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, for incitement to arson following a song he sang in Senekal which translate to “call the fire brigade, burn these Boers”.
Steyn pointed out that farms being set alight does not just affect the farmer and farm workers on these farms… but will have wide-reaching economic and food security impacts On South Africans all over the country and from all walks of life.
“Some of these farmers are still reeling from the drought that has plagued areas in South Africa for seven years and still not a cent of the R35 million given for drought relief in the Northern Cape has been spent to assist the farmers there,” claims Steyn.