Small-scale farmers in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape are reeling from shock after a tornado left a path of destruction in its wake. Thousands of villagers have been displaced, and hundreds of homes were destroyed during the superstorm on Tuesday night. Also, vehicles were “thrown in the air” while trees were uprooted, and classrooms destroyed.
A distraught farmer, Sipesihle Kwetana, tells Food For Mzansi that she lost everything – a few months after she started picking up the pieces of covid-19 related losses in her enterprise. “I don’t want to lie to you. I don’t have a cent on my name,” she says.
Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, the founder of Gift of the Givers, describes the deadly storm as the biggest tornado in recorded history in South Africa. Weather experts say the tornado hit the poverty-stricken OR Tambo district in the eastern part of the province. It was marked by strong winds, heavy downpour and lightning.
At least three people have died while thousands are hospitalised. The South African Weather Service says strong evidence suggests that it was an EF3-tornado indicating estimated winds of between 218 and 266 kilometres per hour.
Kwetana says villagers are desperately trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered homes, but the reality is that most have nothing left to salvage. The 26-year-old says, “The damage is too much, in fact. I don’t have (vegetable) tunnels anymore and both my nursery and office are gone.”
The tornado destroyed 30 000 bunches of spinach, 220 000 cabbages and 40 000 butternuts that Jay Jay Farming had ready to be sent to markets.
Due to the huge losses suffered the former YAFF awardee doesn’t know how and whether she would be able to one day resume her farming activities.
“There is nothing I can do now – I’m broke. We will just have to sell what’s left and start again when we have the money to do so.”
Food For Mzansi earlier exclusively reported that Kwetana is one of the 2019 YAFF awardees who have not received the cash prizes promised by the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development. Kwetana was the winner in the smallholder competition category, and has only received half of the R100 000 prize money.
Also affected by tornado is Umtiza Farmers’ Corp, an agri-business selling feed and fertilisers. Mthatha branch store manager, Nolitha Njila, says when staff returned to work on Wednesday morning, the store was severely damaged.
Umtiza will have to find alternative storage space in the meantime, says Njila.
“The water passed through the shop. We lost some of our products. The store was literally flooded with water. Some of our feed has been destroyed and our storage facility has also been affected.”
Meanwhile Mzimasi Jalisa, the co-owner of Jay Jay Farming in Mthatha, witnessed the storm approaching while he was busy on his farm. “It’s like I knew what was about to happen. I was shocked and numb at the same time. But I had no power to change it,’ he says.
Very little left to salvage
Although, as a farmer, Jalisa knew that a natural disaster would one day strike their farm, he was nowhere near ready for it. The tornado destroyed about 30 000 bunches of spinach, 220 000 cabbages and 40 000 butternuts that Jay Jay Farming had ready to be sent to markets.
“There is little that we can recover,” he says. Jalisa calculates that it will take him a year to recover without government assistance. He estimates that they have lost over R200 000 worth of products, which excludes the cost of planting.
Gift of the Givers has meanwhile responded to the plight of Eastern Cape residents who have been left homeless as result of the tornado disaster. Sooliman says his entire teams in Adelaide, the Free State, Graaff-Reinet and Pietermaritzburg are headed to the region with a range of supplies. This included water purification sachets and personal protective equipment for two hospitals.
“Urgent requirements include shelter, plastic and corrugated sheeting, blankets, clothing, food parcels, bottled water, hygiene and dignity packs. Given the scale of destruction public support is welcome,” says Sooliman.