Farmers waiting

2008-11-20 00:00

Frustration among cash-strapped KwaZulu-Natal farmers who suffered huge damage in the fires of June 2007 is reaching boiling point as the Agriculture Department continues to drag its feet on compensation pay-outs of some R40 million.

In June, farmers were promised that they would be paid out from the end of July.

An angry farmer who spoke to The Witness on condition of anonymity said many are in desperate need of help now. “It’s been far too long. Are these delay tactics? Are they waiting for elections before they pay us?”

He said many farmers were under-insured and lost their entire operations and homesteads.

“If there is a hitch, they must tell us, but we need a firm commitment from the department of Agriculture as to when we will get paid.”

KZN Agicultural Union (Kwanalu) president Robin Barnsley said farmers provided the department with all the necessary information to do assessments of damage, but they have not received anything.

Barnsley said the process is “entirely in the hands of the department”.

In June 2007, fires raging across an estimated 59 000 hectares in the midlands area caused millions of rands in damage and the department declared it a disaster area.

Damage was caused to timber and sugar plantations and to livestock farms and around 8 000 farm labourers, each of whom have six to eight dependents, totalling around 50 000 people, were left destitute.

Sappi and Mondi each lost between 400 and 500 hectares of prime timber and around 1 000 hectares of privately-owned timber also went up in flames. Some 4 000 hectares of sugar cane was destroyed in the Mid-Illovo area.

Homes in Elandskop, Vulindlela, Shayamoya, Impendle and Taylor’s Halt were destroyed.

Barnsley said farmers were also waiting for compensation from the cold weather disaster of 2001, when livestock died in freezing conditions.

The Agriculture Department failed to respond to questions about the relief. On Tuesday, spokesman Thami Ngidi promised that a press statement would be sent to The Witness, but by yesterday, no response had been received.

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