'By-laws will make life hard for us'

Villagers in various communities of Bolobedu in Limpopo says life is becoming unbearable for them since headmen started enforcing by-laws prohibiting them from cutting trees for firewood.

This after regent Prince Mpapatla Modjadji, pictured, warned headmen from more than 135 villages to be tough on people who violated a "no deforestation" by-law. Villagers cut trees for firewood.

Modjadji said this during a quarterly general meeting of headmen held at Khehlakoni village last Friday. About 400000 people across the poverty-stricken Bolobedu region are allegedly affected by this new arrangement. The villagers say this will be disastrous as most of them cannot afford the high increase in the price of electricity, which Eskom is expected to introduce shortly.

Melida Sekgotodi, one of the affected people, says she depended on firewood from the surrounding bushes to cook for her extended family.

"I don't know what will happen now. I fear a heavy fine should I cut trees for firewood," she says.

She says members of her family are living in dire poverty and depend on social grants and can therefore not afford electricity. According to Modjadji Royal Council spokesperson Clement Modjadji the by-laws were introduced last year but last week's general assembly was held to remind headmen and communities to respect them.

"We are quite sure that communities are aware that the laws have been there for many years. This is just to remind them that the laws still need to be upheld," he says.

Modjadji says the minimum fine is R1500 if one is found guilty of deforestation. He says the council now has more than 100 outstanding cases since the by-laws were enforced.

But many communities in the area are worried that the by-laws will make it even more difficult for struggling families. They says Eskom's proposed tariff increase will make life even more difficult.