The excruciating heat wave that has been enveloping parts of the country since last week holds far reaching consequences for Limpopo. A fire fighter and five children have thus far reportedly lost their lives in separate incidents, raging fires are ravaging upmarket tourism establishments, wildlife conservancies and precious agricultural land already under drought-threat in the Waterberg and vulnerable residents in several hubs are immersed in a water crisis.
The loss of precious lives arose from five children reportedly drowning in respective incidents at Mashishimale Village near Phalaborwa, Vleifontein in the Louis Trichardt area and at Letaba Rest Camp in the Kruger National Park after earlier seeking refuge against the excruciating heat and a fire fighter, Samuel Ramokgaba who died after succumbing to his wounds sustained on the fire line (See story on page 13).
Although the affected district has not been declared a disaster area, Agriculture MEC Joy Matshoge undertook to submit a report to Premier Stan Mathabatha and Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana to seek compensation to affected farmers. As in the ase of the Cooperative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs (Coghsta) Department having sent its Disaster Management team to the area, Agriculture Department officials are out in affected areas to assess damages incurred and the department is expected to release verified information in due course, it was learnt. According to Agriculture Department Spokesperson Sipho Dikgale, Matshoge visited areas affected by the crisis on Tuesday and coupled it to a visit to Northam to Ramokgaba’s family.
In the statement reference was made to an estimated 70 000 to 80 000 hectares of land, several properties, vehicles and both game and domestic animals having been destroyed.
In the meantime Provincial Government Spokesperson Phuti Seloba stressed that the situation in Waterberg was classified a crisis at the moment and not yet a disaster. Currently the situation is manageable and does not warrant the ringing of alarm bells, it was learnt. He expressed the confidence that the situation would be under control very soon. He emphasised that the affected area was being observed and monitored as to ascertain the extent of damages and look at possible ways of assisting the affected parties.
Seloba referred to fire fighting teams from bordering provinces Mpumalanga, Gauteng and North West assisting in operations in the Waterberg, also ensuring that the fires do not cross over to their territories.
DA calls for intervention
Democratic Alliance (DA) Provincial Leader Jacques Smalle indicated in a media release that he had written to Matshoge to declare Waterberg District a disaster area “after more than 200 000 hectares were destroyed by veld fires since Sunday”. He further urged the MEC to establish a specialised task team to evaluate damage, financial impact of the calamity and ascertain the need for further intervention.
Smalle expressed the opinion that the disaster would adversely impact on Limpopo’s declining economy and the embattled agricultural sector.
Damages extended to a lodge at Entabeni Safari Conservancy being almost completely destroyed. Spokesperson for Entabeni Safari Conservancy, Arrie van Deventer confirmed that two game viewers, all of the main building of the lodge and eleven of the 21 accommodation units were completely destroyed. “The fire was allegedly started by heavy lightning in the area and strong winds from the heat wave had the fire made its way to Entabeni quickly. We lost about 2 500 to 3 000 ha and the estimated value of the damages is not yet determined,” Van Deventer said.
The Transvaal Agricultural Union of South African North (TAU) Chairperson Steven Vermaak said several farmers lost high volumes of grazing veld as well as several animal deaths were also reported.
“The heat wave contributed severely to the spreading of veld fires in the Waterberg district and about 70 000 ha were destroyed. The availability of water is also crucial as farmers had to use more water during the hot conditions which now saw drastic decrease in the underwater sources. In Marken, Baltimore and Thabazimbi reports of dry boreholes were already received,” Vermaak said.
While the heat wave of the past week creates the demand for relief, residents of high-lying Polokwane suburbs who are under siege due to limited water resources are accusing Polokwane Municipality of poor planning at a time of pending crisis (See story on page 3).
Some residents in Polokwane, Seshego and Mankweng have already experienced a serious water shortage due to a rapid decline in the reservoir levels. Polokwane Municipality confirmed that the high water usage can be ascribed to the high weather conditions and by Monday reservoirs contained between 0% and 20% water.
Water purification plants in Seshego and Dalmada have been opened to residents to collect water from 06:00 to 22:00 daily while water tankers are being dispatched to key points. Residents can also expect spot fines if caught wasting water by watering gardens.
Jan Vermeulen from the South African Weather Service forecasting office in Pretoria confirmed that the heat wave subsided by Tuesday. “There are still high temperatures expected for parts of Limpopo but temperatures will decrease from today (Thursday). Maximum temperatures for today (Thursday), Friday and Saturday are forecast at 34°, 30° and 28° Celsius respectively with chances of showers and thunder showers for the three days,” Vermeulen said.
Photo: The remains of a child and a teenager are retrieved from a dam in Vleifontein near Louis Trichardt last week.