The Eastern Cape government has declared the province a drought disaster area and the premier is ‘considering’ a request to meet farmers. However, the provincial government’s upcoming mid-term budget shows no real signs of commitment to help farmers and residents of drought-stricken areas.

Drought is worse than expected

With the drought in its fifth year, so far the province has committed just under R3 million in drought relief funds and has budgeted for another R3,2 million in the upcoming mid-term budget.

Dr Imtiaz Sooliman from Gift of the Givers said his organisation has already spent more than R3 million on boreholes, fodder and bottled water just in the Graaff-Reinet area. He said they were sinking an eighth borehole and included eight interlink trucks with fodder, bottled water, food supplements for children and water brought from Makhanda with water tankers.

The Democratic Alliance’s Retief Odendaal described the province’s drought intervention as ‘laughable’. “It is clear to me that they have no clue what is happening on the ground,” he said.

The Western Cape recently committed R148 million to drought relief, with R50 million being made available immediately, and the Northern Cape committed R50 million and further assistance with boreholes and fodder.

Agri Eastern Cape says government is to blame

Doug Stern, spokesperson for Agri Eastern Cape, pulled no punches when describing government’s response to the drought.

“Every government in the world should make provision for funds to help its people when disaster strikes,” he said. “This government is failing dismally.”

“The intensity of the drought has caught all of us by surprise. We had to deal with both increased temperatures and very little rain. We are going to be in real trouble if this carries on any longer.”

He said they were pleasantly surprised and relieved by the commitment of the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Thoko Didiza, and the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Lindiwe Sisulu, to assist where they can in the Eastern Cape.

Stern said the hold-up was caused by the Eastern Cape Government failing to ask national government to declare the province a disaster area as this is how funds are made available.

“There is nothing we can do to override the province,” he said. “The process starts with them. They haven’t done anything to help us. It sickens me that the government does not want to face this. Yes, we know it will rain again, but it doesn’t rain money and food.”

“It seems that the Eastern Cape Government does not understand that food security and production is under serious threat.”

He said the law states that if two or more districts in a province have been declared disaster areas, like the Sarah Baartman area and the Amathole district, the premier should declare the province a disaster area.

“The incompetence in the Eastern Cape Government is a crying shame,” Stern said. “There is a roadmap on dealing with a drought and they are all fast asleep.”

Government funds might not reach all farmers

Calling the current situation a ‘dry spell’, Mvusiwekhaya Sicwetsha, Chief Director of Communications, Media Liaison and Customer Care at the Eastern Cape Government said the Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform has spent R2 million on rainwater tanks and water troughs and another R800 000 on fodder.

He said a further R3 million was budgeted for drought relief in the upcoming mid-term budget, and it was all they could afford given the financial situation.
He said after receiving a report from the Eastern Cape Department for Governance
and Traditional Affairs they had declared the province a disaster area and were
waiting for this to be published in the Government Gazette.

Sicwetsha said farmers with insurance should claim from their drought insurance. “Government shares in the concerns of households and farmers hit by drought and
water scarcity. We are spending time assisting those households and farmers.”

He said given the financial situation of the provincial government, the money allocated ‘might not reach all farmers’, but more funds will become available once a drought disaster is declared.

Government has provided some relief

Sicwetsha stressed there has been a meeting between farmers and the MEC of
Rural Development and Agrarian Reform, Nomakhosazana Meth, and they were ‘working on a second’.

With regard to the threat to food security, he said they were working hard to increase the number of producers, improve the quality of food and ensure sustainability.

Sicwetsha insisted it is not true that households were not provided with drinking
water. “We are providing water,” he said. He said that now was not the time for accusations. “We have to work together and not against one another to deal with this.”

The money that has so far been made available by the provincial government for drought relief has been spent on:

  • 113 water tanks delivered in March.
  • 235 water troughs with fittings delivered to 35 farmers.
  • 256 tons of lucerne and 173 tons of grass and hay delivered to 14 farmers.
  • 4 100 bags of whole maize given to 69 commercial farmers.

Explain the lack of drought response

Odendaal said he has written to the members of the portfolio committee for Rural Development and Agrarian Reform to request that they summon Meth and the acting head of the department, Heathcoat Jongile Mhlomi, to explain the province’s
lack of drought response.

“It is clear to me that the province does not realise the severity of the situation,” he
said. “The drought is disastrous.” – Maverick Citizen