Our Burning Planet


Calls to declare North West a disaster area after devastating blazes ravage farmland

Calls to declare North West a disaster area after devastating blazes ravage farmland
A veld fire wreaks havoc on a farm in North West. (Photo: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Felix Dlangamandla)

North West villagers and farmers are calling for the Provincial Disaster Management Centre to declare recent veld fires a disaster after almost half a million hectares of land were destroyed over a period of six months this year.

Farmers and villagers in North West have asked the government to declare the province a disaster area after veld fires destroyed 448,643ha of land and caused 15,216 burn scars between May and mid-October.

Letlhogela La Badimo said that as a concerned community member and an emerging farmer, he is calling for the government to declare the North West fires a disaster.

“If the province is not declared a disaster area and… does not receive any rain in the next two weeks, the livestock will die due to starvation,” he said.

According to La Badimo, 100% of grazing land in Kgokgole village was razed by the fires which started on 8 October. 

‘Zero grazing land’

“We are currently on zero grazing land. I don’t know how many more days my livestock will survive… during the (2017) fires in Knysna, the government was very much involved and it was all over the news,” he said.

north west disaster

A veld fire rages in North West. (Photo: Facebook / North West Umbrella Fire Protection Association)

La Badimo said similar devastation was taking place in North West’s Kgokgole, Tshaneng, Pembroke, Eska, Newham and neighbouring villages, but nothing was being done about it.

“The fires burnt for eight straight days, but it seems like nobody cares. 

“The fire department did not help. Our brothers and uncles who received zero training on fire fighting and management, with no fire fighting equipment, have risked their lives and health trying to fight the flames. 

“Our cattle and goats have had zero grazing for days now,” he said.

La Badimo said community members fought the fires late into the night with no protective clothing.

‘What must we do for help?’

“What must we do for this to get attention and for us to get help? Are we not citizens of this country like people from Knysna?” he said.

La Badimo said the Working on Fire team only stepped in to help once the fires reached the farms, adding that 90% of the work had been done by community members.

Another farmer, Tumi Kgasapane, said the fires this year had been extremely bad.

“In August I almost lost my entire farm because of the veld fires, and in the middle of September I lost all of my grazing land. There are also people who get injured while they are trying to extinguish these fires,” he said.

north west veld fire

A veld fire that erupted in North West in October 2022. (Photo: Supplied)

Farmer Fanie Smit said the fires in Klippan earlier this month took three days to put out: “About 5,500ha burnt over six farms. Eight goats, five cattle and four bulls all died in the fires. The fires also damaged property and burnt a bakkie.”

Smit said that at Ditwakaneng, the fires destroyed 1,800ha and damaged a bakkie.

“In our area alone, we’ve had nine fires so far…” 

State of disaster

Eric Thabo Stoch, chair of the North West Umbrella Fire Protection Association, said the Greater Taung municipality had four times as many fires as the Kagisano-Molopo municipality.

“We are calling for the government to declare the province a state of disaster as we cannot continue like this,” he said.

Stoch said that last year they had lost 738,303ha between May and 18 November:

“The estimated loss to the provincial economy, excluding the costs of fire suppression, was R4.5-billion.

north west firefighting

A community member in Taung municipality fighting a veld fire. (Photo: Supplied)

“We tried to have a state of disaster declared last year, but failed, as there was no support from the provincial disaster management centre or government. We are trying again this year.”

Stoch said the worst-hit area in the North West falls under the Bojanala Platinum District Municipality.

“We can’t allow these fires to continue damaging our areas year in and year out. These fires are costing people’s lives and livestock… farmers have to go and replace livestock and fodder every time. This is unacceptable,” he said.

Brian Setswambung, communications head of the North West government, said this month’s veld fires had destroyed more than 112,224ha of farmland in the Greater Taung, Naledi and Kagisano Molopo local municipalities, damaged infrastructure and killed livestock. 

Wind and heat

“Strong wind and high temperatures contributed to the losses. Due to the damage that uncontrolled fires caused in these areas, the district and local municipality had to intervene to mitigate the effects of the fires,” he said.

Setswambung said the district municipalities supported the farmers, the Fire Protection Association and Working on Fire by coordinating and managing firefighting operations. 

When asked about the extent of the damage to biodiversity, Setswambung said an assessment was still being finalised.

north west farmland fire

A veld fire sweeps through farmland in North West. (Photo: Gallo Images / You / Supplied Image)

“Government deployed six additional Working on Fire teams, three helicopters and a spotter to support the firefighters. The province is committed to creating safer and disaster-resilient communities in the North West,” he said.

As to the causes, he said “some of the veld fires are deliberate (criminal) and others are accidental… negligence”. 

“Disaster management is everybody’s responsibility and, as government, we call upon all sectors of our communities to heed to all early warnings and to call on fire services when the fires start,” he said.

In a press statement, Setswambung said the government had assembled a team of firefighters, environmentalists and officials to develop and implement a plan to respond to the disaster.

north west veld fires

A veld fire wreaks havoc on farmland in North West. (Photo: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Felix Dlangamandla)

“A joint operations centre — which includes the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, Working on Fire, the North West Umbrella Fire Protection Association and the Dr Ruth Segomotsi Mompati District Municipality — has been created to coordinate the deployment of resources to various areas that are affected by veld fires,” he said.

Over the past few weeks, he said, devastating veld fires destroyed over 50,000ha of grazing land in Kagisano-Molopo Local Municipality. 

“Fence lines, poles, kraals and six water sources such as pipes and water tanks were damaged by the fire. It is estimated that six cattle, as well as one goat and one horse, have been killed by the fire, a figure which is yet to be made official once an assessment has been completed,” he said.

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North West Premier Kaobitsa Bushy Maape appealed to residents to avoid making open fires.

“Residents must note the danger of starting open fires. The destruction might come at the cost of human life. The current veld fires have destroyed properties. It will take time for some farmers to recover from this calamity” said Maape.

He said the Department of Economic Development, Environment, Conservation and Tourism would deploy environmental specialists to conduct an assessment of sensitive biodiversity areas. 

The National Council of SPCAs said the recent fires in the North West were among the worst yet experienced, with more than 100,000ha of farmland and veld being burnt. 

“Our teams covered roughly 2,500km responding to the fires, and nearly half of this mileage was spent searching for lost and injured animals. 

“Numerous animals succumbed to their injuries… animals found alive were humanely relieved of their suffering. 

“The proactive approach of farmers moving livestock to the Free State and Kalahari areas greatly contributed to the welfare of the animals,” read the statement.

The NSPCA said that every year, enormous loss of life and damage to property and natural resources occurred because of carelessness, malice and acts of nature. DM/OBP

Absa OBP

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