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

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

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 burn wounds on Monday. 

Nel said his son had also been placed 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 due to 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 an estimated 100,000 hectares 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 damages. 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 rands' damage have hit us."

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.”

Nine arrested in violent protests

Police spokesperson Col Thandi Mbambo confirmed that a case of arson was opened by Agri Hertzogville this week. This in was addition to the cases of public violence and malicious damage to property opened by the police.

Mbambo said unrest broke out in in Malebogo, Hertzogville, on Sunday when disgruntled community members blocked the R708 Hertzogville and Christiana road with burning tyres. The fire spread to nearby farms.

Mbambo said four communal water tanks were also damaged.

Nine suspects between the ages of 19 and 49 were arrested for public violence and malicious damage to property.

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 the 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 why anyone would want to cause such widespread destruction.”



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