DA leader Mmusi Maimane. File picture: Jerome Delay/AP.
With more than 62 000 jobs at risk as a result of the ongoing drought in the Northern Cape, the DA has called for the province to be declared a disaster area.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane was in Kimberley on Tuesday, where he said that the party was “convinced’ that the drought in the Northern Cape, which has persisted for almost five years, should be declared a provincial disaster.

“The province’s crippling drought has persisted for almost five years without real, meaningful action by the provincial government. We are convinced that this drought must be declared a provincial disaster. We will appeal to Premier Zamani Saul, in writing, to declare this as a matter of urgency,” Maimane said.

He added that the DA was in possession of a yet to be released report by the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture that spelled out in detail the real danger facing the province, and by extension the country, posed by one of the worst droughts in more than a century.

Maimane said that the report found that stock farmers were exposed to very limited food supply from natural rangelands and borehole levels in many areas were dropping significantly.

“The report indicates that 10 000 farms, with a carrying capacity of 166 000 large stock units, covering more than 5.8 million hectares, have experienced prolonged drought. This could escalate to one million large stock units if above normal rainfall is not reached during the coming winter and summer rainy seasons.

“Prolonged drought conditions have prevailed across the greater part of the Northern Cape for the past five years already, with a devastating knock-on effect on agriculture, the rural economy and the social welfare of residents of drought embattled areas.

“Farmers are so indebted that they cannot secure loans to buy feed to keep their animals alive. More and more farm workers are at risk of losing their jobs. Businesses, like abattoirs, are battling to keep their doors open and are downscaling working days from five-day weeks to four day weeks.

“Farming communities are bearing the brunt of the drought, as children are being taken out of school because their parents cannot afford transport costs, while the sick are foregoing health care because they cannot afford to get to the nearest clinic.

“In the worst-case scenario, a total of 62 000 jobs throughout the provincial and South African economy, with direct and indirect links to the provincial agricultural sector, stand to be affected if no additional help is forthcoming for Northern Cape farmers. Even if rains come and relief is provided, it will take approximately another five years for farmers and the land to recuperate.”

Maimane added that while declarations of district and provincial disasters had been made in the past, and drought assistance has previously been provided by government, the help had not been sustainable.

“The last funding allocation, based on the most recent provincial disaster declaration of 2017, was an amount of R127 million made available over 2017 and 2018. The funding typically helps farmers for about three months, after which time they again have to fend for themselves, as disaster proclamations and drought relief expires after three months,” he noted.

“The DA is therefore not only calling on Dr Saul to declare a provincial disaster and have it gazetted as a matter of urgency, to enable drought assistance to reach distressed farmers in a hurry. We are also calling on the premier to see to it that the ineffective disaster management system is reviewed to ensure that drought relief is effected more speedily and is more sustainable.

“District municipalities must own up to the responsibility of monitoring drought conditions and declaring droughts in the districts without delay. Provincial government must implement long-term drought management schemes. Yet, the Northern Cape Department of Coghsta (Co-operative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs) is the only provincial department in the country that has not yet developed a disaster management plan. Surely, this paints a picture of a provincial government that fails to take disaster management seriously.

“It is time for the government to take ownership of drought management or face being an accomplice to the collapse of the Province’s rural economy and to large-scale job losses in a Province and country where unemployment is unacceptably high,” Maimane concluded.