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Last week, the DA conducted a 3-day oversight visit to rural KwaZuu-Natal towns to assess the impact of the tumultuous events of the past fortnight on food security and the farming sector.
While food donations have started to trickle in, an emergency social assistance programme is needed to prevent a full-blown food security crisis from unfolding in the short term, especially among some of the most vulnerable communities in these towns.
With all the attention on areas like Soweto, Durban and Pietermaritzburg, the DA conducted a food security oversight visit to rural KZN. Areas visited included eSikhaleni, Empangeni, Pongola, Nongoma, Dundee, Pomeroy, Tugela Ferry, Greytown , Mooi River and Howick. The scale of the looting differed variably in each area that we visited with Nongoma and eSikaleni standing out as some of the hardest-hit areas of those we visited. We received reports of other towns also being destroyed in totality or in part.
The total destruction of both malls in eSikaleni has left thousands of people unemployed and people now dependant on Empangeni to buy food and other much needed necessities. In Nongoma, only one food store managed to open and people were queuing outside of town with police controlling access of just 60 people at a time into town.
Along the pre-planned route that we took, we came across farms that showed signs of burning and disturbance. Representatives from local farming communities told us that not only had they been manning road blocks to protect towns from further looting, they had been fighting raging fires for several days to stop them from causing further damage to their farming operations.
Farmers raised several issues which they said could slow down the recovery rate from the looting and arson campaign, namely:
Short-sighted petrol container ban.
Inability to off-load perishable products leading to their eventual discard.
Closure of auctions and its impact on the rural economy.
This multi-faceted disruption to farming will have a disproportionate impact on the poor. Agriculture jobs, which are the lifeline of rural communities, will be negatively affected leading to a spike in unemployment and loss of income.
Worse still, some of the rural towns we visited are still in the grips of a foot and mouth outbreak. The events of the past two weeks may potentially exacerbate the problem. If this happens, this could be devastating to farmers trying to pick up the pieces from the losses that they suffered from the looting and arson.
An urgent intergovernmental effort is needed to starve off a food security crisis in KZN rural communities. This should be matched with a targeted support programme to assist farmers who suffered notable losses as a result of the damage inflicted on their farming operations.