Day Zero and a ticking time bomb await farmers, both veteran and emerging, in the Northern Cape.
It is a day when cattle, sheep, goats, and other livestock will all die a slow painful death caused by hunger. It is also a day when the hard work of farmers will come to end because of a catastrophic drought gripping the province, especially impacting small towns like Vanwyksvlei and Griekwastad.
As you drive the long stretch of dusty gravel road leading to Vanwyksvlei, about 400km outside of Kimberley, all you see is black and brown, little green, and no sign of rain.
There are no running streams or rivers, and the roots of dead trees stick out of the ground.
This is the daily sight that greets desperate farmers such as Jan Moolman and Dirk Saccol.
The emerging farmers jointly share and rent Dubbele farm, in Vanwyksvlei, from the municipality. Initially, they were excited by the idea some years back, but now it just brings misery as they watch their livestock die in front of their eyes.
As you drive towards the farm, at least two dead lambs lie on the side of the gravel road. Their lifeless bodies emaciated from lack of food and water.
Surviving on overdraft to keep going
It is not only farmers who are affected by the drought. Workers are worried they might lose their jobs if the rain does not fall soon.
Moolman and Saccol shared their concerns during a visit by GWK, a company that offers the modern agri-business sector a complete range of products and services, especially during the drought. The visit, themed Just One Drop, sought to raise awareness of the challenges the farmers face due to the disaster.
“Every day I come to the farm is not a pleasure as I see how my animals are dying because of hunger. The boreholes are also drying up and there is no other way,” a visibly worried Saccol said.
Dressed in blue work suits, the duo said there was nothing they could do but pray for rain to come someday.
Not only were the animals dying because of hunger, they faced another threat – jackals who were also in need of food and therefore hunted anything they could find, Moolman said.
“Today it’s one lamb missing, tomorrow three and the day after five. It’s a total disaster.”
They are calling on any help they can get to survive and continue farming. They said as upcoming farmers, who received the land through a project from the government, they still needed to pay rent to the municipality, which had now also become a struggle.
“The situation on the farm is so bad and I cannot even go to the banks for loans because I don’t have insurance and anything showing that this is my farm.
“I survive on an overdraft which has also depleted; and I cannot even repay it. I now do jobs elsewhere so that I can now and again pay my overdraft debt to avoid being handed over to lawyers,” Saccol said.
Saccol said he now had to reduce the amount of times he fed his livestock from three meals a day to two so that the feed could last longer. Most importantly, he also has three children to feed.
“My top-scale of animals was around 800 but now I have less than 100. About 200 have died while others I have sold to feed the other ones.
“I don’t know which door we need to knock on to wake up the government, to see what is really happening here. And I’m sure if the livestock farmers all should fail now, then South Africa is going to fail.”
Although it is dark times for the farmers, they still put up a strong front with the hope that the situation will soon change, and things will go back to how they should be.
Frank du Toit farms in Griekwastad and rents land from the municipality.
“I have hope that the rain will come again. It’s not so far. In two or three months, we will be in a better place because this farm is a very good farm, it just needs a little water and will be fine,” he said.
Du Toit added the drought was a setback for many farmers like him who rented land. When he started out in 2013, he was promised he would sign a contract after he had security of livestock.
However, because of the disaster, he has failed to meet the target because he does not have enough livestock.
He is even relying on assistance from his two children in order to pay the salaries of his workers, although it is not enough.
During the two-day visit to various farms in the area, farmers all expressed similar sentiments. They are of the view that the effects of the drought were not only to going to affect them alone, but the entire world and the consequences will be felt for many years to come if there is nothing to put down to save the little there is.