MEC asks business to help victims

Mhlaba Memela

Mhlaba Memela

KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Agriculture and Environmental Affairs Mtholephi Mthimkhulu has appealed to local businesses to come to the rescue of victims left destitute by last week's runaway fires.

Fires wreaked havoc in the region, killing 13 people and destroying prime agricultural farmland.

Hundreds of people have been left homeless by the fires, which killed thousands of livestock.

In Mpumalanga, the fires swept through large timber plantations killing seven people.

Mthimkhulu and senior local government leaders have completed an extensive tour of the areas.

Indications are they will ask that the region be declared a disaster area.

Infernos, fuelled by dry conditions and powerful winds, gutted prime farming, grazing, agricultural and timber land in the northern parts of the region.

The areas hardest hit were Winterton and Paulpietersburg.

Communal and commercial farmers have been given government grants to buy fodder.

The homeless have been provided with relief aid including food parcels, tents and blankets.

In Winterton, more than 400 people were left homeless and more than 30000ha of prime grazing land were destroyed.

At Dumbe, Eshowe, Nkandla and Umvoti in northern Zululand, hundreds of goats, cattle and sheep perished in the fires.

Sixty-four farms in the area were devastated.

Agricultural department spokesman Mbulelo Baloyi said a conservative estimate of the damage has been at least R2billion.

Yesterday, the Pietermaritzburg-based NGO, Gift of the Givers, donated food and clothes to the victims in Newcastle.

Meanwhile, thousands of Newcastle residents left homeless after a storm ravaged their homes last year are still living in tents.

Themba Mhlongo of Umzinyathi said they were given tents as alternative housing by the municipality last year.

Vusimuzi Mthembu, Amajuba district municipal manager, said they were aware that people were still living in tents.

"We provide them with food, blankets and tents - and that's as far as we can go.

"It's not our responsibility to rebuild people's homes. We only coordinate the process.

"That is in the hands of the department of local government, housing and traditional affairs," he said.