South Africa: A Farmer's Widow's Struggle in the Northern Cape in the Midst of a Debilitating Drought

16 December 2019

For several years, Berdine Vos lived on a farm with her husband, Kobus, in Vanwyksvlei in the Northern Cape. In February 2018, tragedy struck. Vos was forced to pick up the pieces and take over the farm after her husband's death.

Kobus, who was dealing with depression, had taken his life when the area where he farmed was hit by widespread drought, threatening food security and leaving thousands of farmers in limbo.

But 70-year-old Vos said life had to go on. She said the animals needed to be fed and she needed to survive.

'I locked the safe but...'

Due to the drought in the area, water sources dried up, and plants and animals, a source of income for farmers, died.

Sitting in the lounge of her colleague, Rudi Oberholzer, Vos relayed her ordeal and remained composed as she spoke to News24.

The interview was part of a tour News24 attended with GWK and Agri Northern Cape, under the theme Just One Drop, to some of the areas worst hit by the drought.

At each farm, it was a similar situation.

Dressed in white jeans and blue top, Vos sat crossed-legged with one hand on her cheek as she told News24 what life was like since her husband's death.

She said her husband suffered from heart disease but was strong until the drought first hit the area in around 2011 and 2012. then "he couldn't take it anymore".

She said although Kobus was hardworking, like all farmers, the situation became so dire that death became an option for him.

"He shot himself. It was a shock to us, but I knew it was coming. He was very stressed about the situation.

"I did my best to protect him and giving him moral support. I locked the safe. But somehow it happened. I don't know how it happened," Vos said as she wiped her face.

Needs a man

The 70-year-old, who is now alone on her farm, said she sometimes wished she could have staff, but she would need money for that.

She has had to lay off some staff because she is unable to pay them.

"As a woman, I cannot do any windmill work. I have to hire someone but because we don't have any sheep. There is no money coming in. You just turn a blind eye...

"At my age, I cannot change a tyre. My greatest fear is to get a stroke or fall and then be dependent on my children, which I don't want to happen."

Vos added: "I can't do some things in farming, without a man around. Not a husband but a man. I need one to look after the farm, but I cannot afford one because there is no income."

The family had more than 1 200 sheep on the farm when it started but is now left with only 30.

Like many other farms, the scarcity of animal feed forced them to sell some sheep so that they can afford to keep the remaining sheep alive.

Choosing happiness despite disaster

Vos said in previous years, the government offered aid to farmers but this was no longer the case.

However, organisations such as GWK and Agri Northern Cape tried their best to provide packages to keep them going.

"Random people even help us. Our friends brought me 14 tons of feed last week. People are good to us. "

But despite all her woes, the mother of three said she decided to live life with a positive mindset and keep smiling because sulking and moaning about the situation won't help.

She said: "I only have so many years left and I must decide whether I'm going to do it with a smile on my face or otherwise. I have to keep my children standing and move on with life."

Source: News24

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