In a heart-wrenching Facebook post, Bles de Klerk, a farmer from Daniëlskuil in the Northern Cape, shares the devastating reality of the recent wildfires, describing the profound emotional impact of loss and destruction on his farm and animals. His words paint a raw picture of resilience and despair, capturing the profound challenges faced by farmers in the aftermath of the disaster.
I’ve read about Job many times as a minister. I’ve preached beautiful sermons about Job. And one day, I became Job.
Saturday morning, I woke up at the usual time, 03:00. My body ached, and the skin on my face peeled and burned, making it unbearable to rest on my pillow. The bandages on my arms felt uncomfortable. I wondered: what awaits me today? Uncle Johan will accompany me with the rifle, in case we need to shoot a cow or two that got badly burned…
Frans and Krappies assist me. We gather the cows and assess the situation. We count them. I see two cows from the large herd, badly burned. They mention another cow, severely burned, lying behind… She refuses to get up because she’s in the midst of giving birth. Frans explains that they had to shoot one cow that got badly burned behind the game camp.
We gather the cows with their little calves where we had branded them the previous day. They’re all there. Thank you, Lord. It’s a miracle. I don’t know how they survived… The cows near the Groentank dam, along with their calves, are all safe. Thank you, Lord. I don’t know how they survived the raging flames in the dense Vaalbos. The cows and calves in the Grootdam camp are fine too. Thank you, Lord. The Simmentaler cows and the old cows in the Grypoort camp, along with their calves, are all safe. Thank you, Lord.
Black and bare
As we drive, all we see is black and soot. No sign of grass. No trees. It was a fierce fire. Often only parts of the camps burn. But this fire took literally everything.
The 30 cows that I wanted to sell, grazing in the Kameelboom camp, are okay. Thank you, Lord.
I hope everything else is as well. As we drive, there is no trace of any camp or part of a camp that was spared. I hope and pray that the major gravel road stopped the fire, allowing us to use the 4500 hectares of Klipfontein and Derbi. It will be tough, but hopefully, we can at least release the 1000 cattle there.
At Derbi’s house, there are two cows badly burned in the kraal. We will have to shoot them, but I want to hear what my good friend Inus thinks or if we can arrange emergency slaughter for her. I’m looking for pasture to move the cattle on Doringaar. We drive past Derbi to Klipfontein. We find nothing.
The fire jumped over the major road. Derbi’s mountain is completely burnt. At the Rooipossie camp, we see that Klipfontein has been completely burned too. THERE IS NOTHING!!! Three farms, 9 000 hectares, are just gone.
The grim reality of 31 charred carcasses
Like Job, we lost everything in one day… There isn’t a tree or a tuft of grass left for 1 000 cattle… What now? Where to?
We drive back to Derbi. Right next to the road, we see the terrible sight of almost an entire herd of Simmentaler stud cows with their calves that burned to death against the fence. We count 16 cows and 15 calves. Some are dead. Others are maimed but still breathing. Uncle Johan walks from cow to cow, and from injured calf to injured calf. Thud. Thud. Thud. Small calves, big calves, young cows, old cows… One calf lies next to its mother. It’s as if the mother tried to shield it from the flames. Both are now in heaven…
The shock of what I saw numbed my heart. I saw it, but I didn’t feel it. I couldn’t believe it… Only one or two cows usually burn. Not 31 dead carcasses in one place? I thought to myself, recalling a spiritual concept I preached about long ago: the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away…
And I think to myself: it’s much easier to preach about Job than to become Job. We drive to the water where the Simmentaler stud cows graze. There, we find five more charred cows and four charred calves.
A beloved bull
My beloved Simbra bull, whom I admired just last week as he grazed with the cows, stands with syncopation in the bush. I loved that bull terribly. I watched him grow, with excitement, I admired his calves, his daughters, and his sons. He was my favourite bull for 10 years. Lorren’s udders aren’t burned… Perhaps she’s fine. I don’t want to get closer to check. I’m afraid. We drive back home. We find Dawid at home.
He says that eight of my stud cows and eight young bulls were burned to death. I have 25 slaughter bulls that run right next to my 45 stud bulls. I hope it’s only the slaughter bulls that burned. My shock was immense when I saw that it’s 8 of my 2021 Simbra bulls that I was planning to sell next year that burned. The eight cows that burned, also against a fence, were part of the group of 45 best stud cows that I kept for myself. The 30 I want to sell were unharmed.
From the 37 stud cows that didn’t burn, twelve have badly burned hooves, and I don’t know if they will recover.
Searching for hope amid the ashes
We returned to Doringaar. Inus helped us remove the animals that weren’t severely burned for Monday’s emergency slaughter. There aren’t many left. Most have to be shot. At Doornaar, there are two cows. One, which was badly burned, gave birth. The calf is 100%. The mother was horribly burned.
At Derbi, there are commercial Simbra bulls from Dad’s herd. Eight were burned to death, and we had to shoot another eight. Everywhere we go, we see dead animals. Five gemsboks. Two small warthogs standing by their mother’s charred carcass. Duikers. Steenboks.
I have never seen so much death in my life. I’m very emotional. I can’t kill anything and I can’t eat my own cattle’s meat. I eat anonymous meat. It felt like death had dulled my heart. But when we returned to the Simmentaler cows’ camp and I saw Dikgat’s badly burned body trying to drink water without a tongue, the dam broke. A deep ache of love and brokenness tore open the chambers of my heart, and I cried like a little boy when I asked Uncle Johan to shoot him.
My love for Dikgat, the pain I carried all day from all the dead animals, flowed from my heart through my tears. Old Inus with his hand on my shoulder and old Loukie, Inus’s son, being there, shedding tears with me, released the raw emotion of loss within me. Bof, bof, bof…
No end in sight
All day long. Dead. Maimed. Scorched. At this point, we’ve had to deal with around 80 cattle that are dead or need to be euthanised. After Uncle Sarel, our neighbour’s farm, burned completely, we provided space for 70 of his cows. Twenty of his cows, cared for by the workers, also burned to death. There are 14 dead cows that I don’t know if they belong to me or my neighbour Susan. There are herds we haven’t reached yet. I’m afraid to see the death and devastation that awaits me around the next charred thicket.
Perhaps it would have been easier if God had struck a match with a lightning bolt, causing the fire, rather than an irresponsible army causing it. At one point, Sarel asked the fire group why the army wasn’t involved anymore.
The general answered: We withdrew because our bases were in danger. Forget the farmers. Forget everyone. We are the army, and we do as we please. We salute the once powerful and good army that used to prioritise the country’s citizens first and then themselves.
Searching for answers
Maybe Job shouldn’t search for stones in the ashes. There are no stones. Only thousands of shattered pieces. But Job wonders. How will we feed 900 cattle when almost 100 are no longer there, with no grass left?
Grazing is so limited, as almost our entire area burned. We don’t have the money to feed 900 cows. What will I do on the farm today? What will I say to the cows staring at me with hungry eyes?
I really don’t know. But God does. He is with us there in the ashes. He will pick us up and carry us.
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