Update: Zuma arrives in Garden Route as farmers struggle with aftermath of fires

President Jacob Zuma, together with Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, on Thursday visited some of the Knysna fire disaster areas. Picture: Knysna-Plett Herald

President Jacob Zuma, together with Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, on Thursday visited some of the Knysna fire disaster areas. Picture: Knysna-Plett Herald

Farmers in the Eden district struggle to pick up the pieces after the fire.

President Jacob Zuma, together with Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, on Thursday visited some of the Knysna fire disaster areas, reports the Knysna-Plett Herald.

Zuma’s visit started at the Knysna municipal offices where he delivered a brief speech. The media were advised to meet Zuma at a seperate location where he would start his on-the-ground look at areas which were affected by the recent wave of fires.

Zuma and Zille started off their site visits in Knysna Heights and later moved to White Location and other affected areas.

Both Zuma and Zille were well received. For the former, crowds gathered outside Knysna municipal offices and again at White Location.

While there were no crowds specifically belonging to the Democratic Alliance (DA) or shouting Zille’s name, she joined in with White Location song and dance after Zuma had left for the next location.

Watch the video here:

On Thursday afternoon, Zuma was among those who attended the funeral of the volunteer firefighter, Bradley Richards, 24, who lost his life while fighting the fires last week.

ALSO READ: Plett fires: Fireman’s long road to recovery

As reported by EWN, Zuma assured attendees at the funeral that the government would try its best to help those affected by the fires.

Six other people were also killed in the fires last week, including firefighter John Blaauw.

Earlier

President Jacob Zuma’s presidential jet landed at the George Airport at 8.30am on Thursday morning, reports the George Herald.

Zuma and his large entourage got into black blue-light limousines that were waiting on the runway and headed for Knysna to assess the fire damage in the area.

Devastating losses were suffered during the fires that ravaged the area over the past week.

Zuma dispatched humanitarian and other support to all the affected areas last week.

Watch the video of the blue-light brigade departing from the airport:

ALSO READ: Where was Zuma during the fires?

The Knysna-Plett Herald further reports the devastation left behind by the fires and storm winds were a double blow to farmers in the Eden district who had already been struggling to cope with a severe drought since last year.

The entrance to the once green Westford farm. Picture: Cobus Erasmus

The entrance to the once green Westford farm. Picture: Cobus Erasmus

Several farms were completely razed to the ground. Cobus Erasmus, secretary of the Knysna Farmers’ Association, said between Karatara and Knysna, the 600-hectare Westford farm, Warren Bright’s blueberry farm, an adjacent tunnel farming operation, as well as Quarrywood farm in the Rheenendal area were totally destroyed. The same fate befell three small plots in the area.

“The most important thing now is to find feed for livestock, but it is arriving bit by bit. The water supply is also a crisis. A milk transport company has delivered water to the farms, but the big tankers cannot access every farm. We need a lot of water.

“Most of us are dairy farmers and one cow can drink up to 200 litres per day. Some farms have a little water left in dams, but because all the fences have burned down, they cannot place their animals back there before new fencing is put up.”

Erasmus, who manages Charlesford farm, which is still intact, said they moved their animals to safe camps when they saw smoke approaching from Karatara’s direction. “At first we thought the fire would burn out in the Goukamma River at Buffalo Bay, but it jumped the river.

It spread extremely fast because it is so dry. This is a double blow. It is going to take a lot of work before we will be back to normal.”

He thanked everyone from Rheenendal and Knysna who assisted in fighting the fire. “Each person on a plot was here and fought bravely. Some suffered burn wounds. Others made their vehicles available and drove around, on the lookout for new fires. It was absolutely amazing.”

Peter Reed, a farmer who is coordinating relief efforts on farms east of Knysna, said they were still assessing farmers’ needs. “Some houses burned down, and I know of one chap whose whole farm is gone.”

Oeloff Badenhorst, SSK’s senior manager of retail, said fodder is scarce because of the drought. “We have found some in Bredasdorp and Grabouw, which will hopefully arrive during the week. Feed was also found in Natal, but we are looking for transport to bring it here.”

Stephan Gericke, owner of Tikketai Packers and Distributors in Pacaltsdorp, said in the George area, gale force winds damaged crops. Young canola and wheat crops will have to be replanted. There was also damage to vegetable crops.

At least seven irrigation hubs were damaged when they were blown over. Because crops cannot be watered until the hubs are repaired, there is secondary damage. Fallen trees caused some minor damage to buildings.

Caxton News Service

 

ALSO READ: 

Drone captures devastation caused by Cape fires as Knysna counts costs

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