Free State Veld fires: DA welcomes declaration of disaster areas

Roy Jankielsohn

Leader of the Official Opposition in the Free State Provincial Legislature

The DA welcomes the announcement that the Dihlabeng and Mohokare local municipalities have declared areas destroyed by raging veld fires as disaster areas. This opens the process for the provincial departments of COGTA and Agriculture to apply for financial disaster relief aid from national government.

We also urge the Maluti-a-Phofung municipality to expedite its assessment to the extent of the impact veld fires had within the region and declare areas affected as disaster areas.

The DA has called on the provincial government to expedite the process and ensure efficient coordination between the different spheres of government and the various departments.

In reply to a written question submitted to Agriculture MEC, Mamiki Qabathe, the provincial government estimates that approximately 230 000 hectares have been destroyed by veld fire across the province to the value of R184 million.

In the reply MEC Qabathe reveals that the provincial government does not have resources set aside that can immediately be utilised in the case of such disasters. This problem extends to local municipalities who neglect to set aside funds ring-fenced for immediate disposal in the event of disasters. This negatively impacts the ability to contract equipment and services from other municipalities and provinces to assist in disaster relief.

Once the legislature reconvenes from the constituency period, the DA will submit proposals that would seek to improve the province’s disaster management services. It has recently been revealed that Free State Disaster Management Services do not meet the minimum standards. The province require a minimum of 29 additional fire engines and 73 additional trained personnel per shift to meet basic standards as set out in the South African National Standard (SANS) 10090 for effective disaster management.

Raging veld fires resulted in the loss of lives, livestock, property and other farming equipment. The destruction of grazing is adding further strain on our struggling rural communities.

We call upon the Provincial Joint Operations Committee, chaired by COGTA MEC, Olly Mlamleli, to consider convening the committee at the soonest so as to make an application for disaster aid relief.

The recent veld fires have resulted in a disaster of great proportions that will adversely impact on the Free State’s declining economy and the struggling agricultural sector. The response by government to this disaster has been terribly lethargic and the DA will ensure that government improves its responsiveness to disasters and emergencies in future.