Garden Route floods: a mix of loss and relief for farmers

Heavy flooding occurred in George this week. From the left: Flooding on a farm near Hartenbos, sent to Agri Western Cape by Henry Meyer; a photo taken by Gift of the Givers of flash-flood erosion in the township of Thembalethu in George; and a photo by the NSRI of their volunteers assisting local authorities to rescue residents trapped in floodwaters in town. Photos: Supplied

Heavy flooding occurred in George this week. From the left: Flooding on a farm near Hartenbos, sent to Agri Western Cape by Henry Meyer; a photo taken by Gift of the Givers of flash-flood erosion in the township of Thembalethu in George; and a photo by the NSRI of their volunteers assisting local authorities to rescue residents trapped in floodwaters in town. Photos: Supplied

South Africans watched in disbelief as visuals of floods in the Western Cape’s Garden Route dominated social media this week. The heavy downpours received mixed reactions from farmers who had been braving drought conditions for several years.

More than 100mm of rain has fallen in George and surrounding areas since Monday, according to data from the department of water and sanitation (DWS).

This was significantly more than the South African Weather Service (SAWS) predictions and yellow-level warning on 21 November that between 15mm and 50mm would fall in the Southern Cape, starting from Monday, 22 November until the end of the week.

Dozens of buildings and roads have been flooded, inaccessible and closed along the Garden Route, while municipal services and power supply have also been interrupted in some places, according to media reports.

Township farmers counting losses

Phumolang Leholo, a township farmer in the informal settlement of Thembalethu, said the floods had a major impact on the area.

“The township has many informal farmers who don’t have the privilege of the resources that other farmers have, so our local farmers suffered a lot. Pig shelters have been destroyed, small gardens have completely been wiped out,” he tells Food For Mzansi.

Leholo explained that, due to limited land and space, farmers in the township keep their livestock in congested spaces that is sometimes shared with other residents.

“Our holdings [sometimes] don’t have proper drainage systems, so when it rains, we can’t even cross to check on our livestock. You can imagine how that feels. Soon we will be counting our losses.”

Outside of town, hops and protea farmer Beverley Joseph tells Food For Mzansi that the floods affected her to an extent but not severely.

Joseph, who recently won the new harvester of the year award at his year’s Toyota SA and Agri SA National Young Farmer of the Year awards, says the floods cut through her land, damaged some of her crops and further mainly affected roads.

“[But] we were very lucky if I look at the damage that some other people suffered in George. Ours was minimal,” says Joseph, who took the below video of water rushing through her farm.

Downpour an answer to many prayers

The heavy downpours were widely welcomed by local farmers.

Laubscher Coetzee, farmer and deputy chairman of Agri SA’s natural resources committee, says that they have been braving drought conditions for almost seven years, and that the absence of water has almost become the norm.

Jannie Strydom, CEO of Agri Western Cape. Photo: Twitter

Coetzee says that nature has answered their prayers and that the 100mm of rain in the mountainside farming areas helps the Little Karoo breathe a sigh of relief.

“We take note of the damages that the floods have presented to other businesses and industries in the region. However, for most of us farmers it came as a relief as we have been battling with the absence of water for some time. We couldn’t be happier.”

Jannie Strydom, spokesperson and CEO of Agri Western Cape, also welcomes the heavy rainfalls.

“We are so thankful for the rain – especially in the drought-stricken areas that have not received rain in many years. We await feedback from our [organisational] structures regarding flood damages on farms. Only then can the extent be determined,” Strydom tells Food For Mzansi.

Water and sanitation spokesperson Sputnik Ratau echoes the farmers’ sentiments that they are pleased with the heavy rainfalls.

“This region has been in dire need of rains as it has received inadequate rainfall for the past few years.”

He says that the Garden Route Dam, which supplies George with drinking water, was already spilling over on Monday afternoon.

Humanitarian relief efforts are currently underway in heavily-affected flooded areas, while officials have started mopping up and doing damage assessments across the region.

Municipal workers repairing a damaged water pipe on Tuesday. Water supply and other municipal services were disrupted by flooding. Photo: Supplied/George Municipality

ALSO READ: How to limit rain damage on farmlands

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