'He is scarred for the rest of his life' — father of farmer burnt in Free State fire

Tewie Nel, 25, who helped battle fires in Hertzogville, in the Free State, is fighting for his life in the Life Rosepark Hospital in Bloemfontein.
Tewie Nel, 25, who helped battle fires in Hertzogville, in the Free State, is fighting for his life in the Life Rosepark Hospital in Bloemfontein.
Image: Supplied

A 25-year-old farmer who helped battle fires in Hertzogville, in the Free State, is fighting for his life in the Life Rosepark Hospital in Bloemfontein.

Gerhard Nel said his son Tewie was in a critical condition after suffering third-degree burns on Monday.

Nel said his son was on a ventilator after inhaling smoke.

“He is getting better. It is extremely tragic because he doesn't have any skin on his arms and legs. It had to be removed because of the burn wounds he suffered.

“He will be in hospital for months and will need skin transplants. He is 25 and he is scarred for the rest of his life. It's a bitter feeling. You can cry over what is happening in our country,” Nel told TimesLIVE on Wednesday morning.

Agri Hertzogville chairperson Gys Olivier said the runaway fires destroyed about 100,000ha  of farm land.

Olivier said the fires had spread in the direction of Boshof and Kimberley.

“Every time the direction of the wind changes, it ignites old flames. We are evaluating the damage. Farmers can't get to computers because they are busy fighting the flames,” he said.

Hundreds of animals, including cows, buffalo and antelope, died in the fires, Olivier said. He said there had also been extensive damage to homes and barns.

“Millions of rand' damage have hit us.”

Agri Hertzogville chairperson Gys Olivier said the runaway fires destroyed an estimated 100,000 hectares of farm land.
Agri Hertzogville chairperson Gys Olivier said the runaway fires destroyed an estimated 100,000 hectares of farm land.
Image: Supplied

Olivier said he was fortunate he has not been affected by the fires.

“Thank God not all of us suffered losses. We can help other farmers. We are highly upset with the people who started these fires, but we love South Africans and it is our goal to produce food and nutrition for our growing population.

Even if you kill us one by one, we won't stop farming and will keep looking after our animals and plants. We love what we are doing.”

Lizelle Herbst is a community member who is helping to arrange donations for farmers in need.  

“The fire is not stopping. People and emergency services are running around trying to put it out,” she said.

“I heard more than 1,000 farms have been affected. They need help with feed, food and water. A lot of animals died or were severely wounded. Some farmers shot animals to prevent them from suffering further.”

17 arrested in violent protests

Police spokesperson Brig Motantsi Makhele confirmed that 17 people had been arrested and appeared in the Hertzogville magistrate's court on Tuesday on charges of public violence and malicious damage to property.

Police confirmed that Agri Hertzogville had also opened a case of arson. Makhele said 11 people were arrested on Sunday and the rest were taken into custody on Monday. He said all were granted bail of R1,000 but seven could not afford bail and would remain in custody.

Their next court appearance is on November 5.

The agriculture portfolio committee in the National Assembly on Wednesday called on agriculture, land reform and rural development minister Thoko Didiza to declare the areas in the Free State and the Northern Cape affected by widespread veld fires as disaster areas.

“In the wake of the raging veld fires on October 18,, many farms in Hertzogville, Hoopstad, Bultfontein and Dealesville have been destroyed. There have been huge losses of property, livestock and game,” said a committee statement.

“We commend the farmers and farming communities for saving lives and ensuring there are no casualties, and for acting swiftly to prevent further devastation and decimation of property.”

Chairperson of the portfolio committee Zwelivelile Mandela said: “We trust the investigation will rule out the possibility of arson as it is inconceivable that anyone would want to cause such widespread destruction.”

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