Drought takes its toll

Dry river beds are forcing weak cattle to walk long distances in the search of water. Many die along the way.
Dry river beds are forcing weak cattle to walk long distances in the search of water. Many die along the way.
Justin Bend

Pietermaritzburg - The ongoing drought in far north Mzinyeni, Jozini, has left in its wake failed crops and dead cattle.

The area falls under the embattled Umkhanyakude District Municipality which was put under administration on Wednesday.

Mzinyeni, like much of the province, has experienced below average rainfall for just over a year. According to an SA Weather Services report, the province has experienced “on average below-normal rainfall for 15 consecutive months since March 2014”.

Water flowing to the Mzinyeni river comes from Jozini dam which is currently sitting at 53,9%, down from 71,6% 12 months ago.

Tholakele Ndlanzi, a subsistence farmer, said she had already lost 15 cattle in a space of less than two months largely because cattle travelling long distances to find scarce watering holes, die. “Even those that I am left with, are so weak. They can die anytime soon. Some of them have been lying down for weeks now. Every day I have to cut grass and feed them,” she said.

Ndlanzi said she was still trying to come to terms with the fact that she had lost her “savings”.

“With us people from the rural areas, cattle are like our banks. That’s how we save or invest. I can sell them for anything between R5 000 and R9 000,” she said.

Ndlanzi, who is unemployed, said she was finding it difficult to make ends meet.

“I am a single parent who have to take care of four children. I mostly rely on crops to sustain us. Without them, it is hard,” she said.

Provincial manager of the Siyazisiza Trust, Justin Bend, said the vegetation in the area had completely dried up.

Siyazisiza Trust is a non-profit development organisation which promotes sustainable development in rural areas of South Africa.

Bend said the situation was getting worse day by day.

“In my entire life, I have never seen anything like this. Most of the residents depend on these crops to get fresh vegetables.

“Because people cannot afford to go to Jozini to buy vegetables, I have seen even old women going to the river to get fish,” he said.

But Bend said the reduced dam levels have resulted in the sluice gates not being opened to run water downstream, leaving the Mzinyeni largely dry.

Jabu Nxumalo, who is a Siyazisiza field worker, said the situation was “getting out of hand”.

“Residents can easily contract diseases because the river water available is not good for consumption. It is difficult also for them not to have water for their plants because they earn income by selling them,” said Nxumalo.

Despite repeated attempts, neither Jozini Municipality nor Umkhanyakude District Municipality could be reached for comment

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