Drought. Picture: AFP / File / Ziniyange Auntony
The government has no proper plan to deal with the current drought, leaving farmers and rural communities to fend for themselves as dry conditions worsen and dam levels drop amid little hope of any rain in the near future.
As the drought threatens to engulf the nation, farmers are crying foul about government’s inaction to give them drought relief assistance.
Both black and white farmers say they have been left to fend for themselves, with nothing coming from the authorities. Now, the farmers are counting the cost as livestock is dying in large numbers on their farms while traditionally productive farmers and landowners are going bankrupt due to massive financial losses.
Even the usually sycophantic black farmers have broken their long silence as they feel the pinch, joining the call by white farmers” unions for action from the authorities.
The African Farmers Association of SA (Afasa) said many farmers would skip the planting season of October and November as it was too dry to plant, with no prospects of rain in the immediate future.
Afasa chairperson Neo Masithela said their members were devastated by the drought in North West, Limpopo, Western Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape and the Eastern Cape.
He said in the past few weeks, KZN had already reported more than R12 million in losses of livestock. One farmer lost 80 breeding cows, eight bulls and 40 calves. The drought also affected horticulture and grain farmers.
The Free State and Eastern Cape are said to be the hardest hit by the scourge.
According to Masithela, the drought was affecting the entire nation and the country was already in a disaster as famers continue to record high numbers of livestock losses across the country.
“Afasa joins the calls from other bodies for the government to declare drought as a national disaster. Afasa calls for immediate intervention to cushion farmers against more loses.”
The Transvaal Landbou Unie Suid Africa (TLU SA) president, Louis Meintjies, expressed TLU-SA’s disappointment that Finance Minister Tito Mboweni provided no assistance to farmers in his recent medium-term budget speech, despite them being the providers of food to the nation.
“As expected, farmers continue to rely solely on their own structures to survive. This, in contrast to state utility Eskom that once again received more grants totalling billions of Rands in taxpayer funds, yet continues its rapid slide into a debt abyss,” Meintjies, said.
The Freedom Front Plus, which has been making a huge noise about the plight of the farmers on every platform including parliament, was disappointed that Mboweni’s economic growth plan didn’t contain a proper plan to assist farmers.
FF Plus leader, Pieter Groenewald, said while financial aid to public enterprises was once again increased over the medium term and taxpayers have to cover it, no re-prioritisation of funds for drought relief was announced and it is extremely disappointing.
“Towns and cities countrywide are headed to ‘Day Zero’ for water availability. The agricultural sector is buckling under the pressure of the drought and bankruptcy is a common occurrence. Food security is at risk and yet the government apparently does not regard it as a priority,” Groenewald said.
The FF Plus MP and its finance spokesperson, Wouter Wessels, said even Ramaphosa gave a vague answer to his question regarding immediate support, like tariff protection for farmers in the context of severe drought, high input costs and farmers facing bankruptcy.
“Even though President Ramaphosa does not want to admit that the situation is serious, the FF Plus will continue to put pressure on the government to not only offer farmers lip service, but to offer the sector proper support at once,” Wessels added.
Civil society organisation Inyanda Land Movement also pointed an accusing finger at government and called for seriousness and concrete action to deal with the current water crisis and drought.
“Inyanda demands that it declares those parts of the country in grip of drought as disaster areas eligible for urgent disaster relief and assistance from the national government.” The body singled out Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu for not owning up and taking responsibility for the situation, by blaming the climate and over-consumption of water by citizens.
“The minister has offered no practical solutions for the country, except to say that South Africans must use water sparingly while the government works on interventions to avoid a drought situation,” Inyanda said.
It said it was concerning that the water crisis was only attended to when it occurred in the urbanised provinces like Gauteng, when rural communities countrywide had been suffering water shortages for many years.
However, the government had offered some help in the Northern Cape (R30 million), Western Cape (R50m) and North West (R31,2 m), but farmers believed it was not enough.
Afasa commended Deputy President David Mabuza for rolling out the R30 million in Northern Cape for drought relief. Mabuza earlier visited the province and witnessed how it was experiencing persistent drought in all of its five districts.
Mabuza said currently below average vegetation conditions were being experienced and farms had been devastated by the drought.
But DA MP and Northern Cape member of the NCOP, Willie Aucamp, said the allocation was not enough as the province needed at least R612 million to alleviate the effects of the five-year drought in the Northern Cape.
Aucamp’s view was echoed by Agri SA executive director, Omri van Zyl, who said the R30m given to the Northern Cape farmers and R50m from the Western Cape agriculture MEC, Dr Ivan Meyer, were a far cry as a lot more was needed to mitigate the drought in the Northern Cape alone.
“We cannot ignore the impact of climate change; however, the current drought at this point seems to be a normal cyclic climatic phenomenon. Cash flow and humanitarian problems are now the norm,” he said.
The DA’s Aucamp said the party had subsequently also started a petition to have the drought declared a disaster and “we have continuously chosen to highlight the drought during both national and provincial debates”.
It has emerged that the delay to declare a disaster area in the drought-stricken areas had been caused mainly by administrative inefficiency and red tape.
“Without the help of Agri SA and other partners, our farmers, their families and farm workers in the Northern Cape would have been devastated,” said Willem Symington, Agri Northern Cape deputy president and head of Agri SA’s newly established Disaster Management Centre.
Since 2015, Agri SA, which had chapters in all the nine provinces, initiated a Disaster Management Centre which focused specifically on disasters and assisting affected farmers. “Agri Sa stands with every farmer, farm worker and farming community that is suffering as a result of the devastating drought in South Africa,” Symington said.
In the North West province, the provincial agriculture department spent a mere R3.7 million of the R31.2 million given for fodder, but the fodder was not properly distributed
DA provincial spokesperson for agriculture and rural development, Jacqueline Theologo, said the R3.7 million was spent on 48,572 bags of fodder but only 20 bags were distributed to 242 farmers, something that raised suspicion about a cover-up and possible corruption.
As the hardest-hit province along with Eastern Cape, Free State farmers were reeling from the weight and effect of the drought. FF Plus MP and member of the National Council of Provinces for Free State, Armand Cloete, blamed the provincial government for failing to deal with water leakages, worsening the water crisis in the province.
Former water and sanitation minister Gugile Nkwinti confirmed that Mangaung Metro alone lost more than 13 billion litres of water due to preventable water losses during the 2017/18 financial year. This translated to a loss of 36 million litres of water a day.
While Inyanda acknowledged the role of climate change in exacerbating the water crisis, the body was adamant that government must shoulder the blame. “Government is also complicit in this crisis through corruption, a lack of water management, poorly maintained bulk water infrastructure and poorly skilled persons dealing in water affairs at municipal level,” it said.
Afasa was concerned that reports from the Department of Water Affairs (DWS) showed that dam levels were lower in every province compared to the same time last year.
The DWS said that Limpopo, North West and Eastern Cape dam levels had last week dropped to below 50%.
Parts of the Eastern Cape are already experiencing severely dry conditions that have prompted the provincial government to declare them natural disasters. “Consequently, the Premier of the EC province is considering a request to meet with the farmers who are seeking government intervention on their situation,” a department statement said
The water shortage, particularly in Gauteng and Free State, was exacerbated by the shutting down of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) for inspection and maintenance purposes. The DWS said the two-month shutdown from 1 October to 30 November 2019 would result in no transfer of water into the Integrated Vaal River System. The last shutdown for maintenance was conducted during the same period in 2012.
The Katse Dam in the Lesotho Highlands, which is the key back-up system for South Africa, was reportedly down to 13.6% full from 49% this time last year.
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