Veld fire destroys pastures, kills one

Livestock farmers in Beitbridge West constituency are counting their losses following the destruction of more than 6 000 hectares of grazing land by a huge veld fire that has been raging on in wards 6, 7, and 14 over the last two weeks.

Firefighters from the affected areas including Mzingwane, Nottingham, River Ranch, Mathavha, Malala, Tshibidzanani, and Masera have been taking turns fighting the fire with the help of the Disasters Risk Management Team.

Beitbridge’s Head of Forestry Commission, Mr Zibusiso Ndlovu, said the situation in the area was devastating considering that livestock production was one of the major anchors of Beitbridge’s economy.

He said an estimated 6 000 hectares of pastures could have been destroyed by the fire whose cause was yet to be determined.

“The first report we get from the National Fire Stirring Committee is that 1 094 hectares were burnt at the inception of the fire. However, from our assessment now on the ground, indications are that 6 000 hectares could have been destroyed,” said Mr Ndlovu,

“At the moment, we are working with the communal farmers in the wards so that we put out the fire and work on fire guards. The support we are getting from everyone is encouraging. Our hope is to contain the fire before more damage is done.”

Mr Steve Pacock from the Rangeland Regeneration Trust, which is working with communities on conservation issues, said the veld fire had damaged huge tracts of grazing lands.

The trust had mobilized traditional leaders and community leaders, including Chief Tshitaudze of Beitbridge West, who has been on the ground leading the firefighters.

“The level of commitment by the community is impressive: on the other hand, the destruction of grazing lands will affect livestock farming,” said Mr Pacock. “You will note that 70 percent of the people in this area survive on livestock rearing-related activities.”

A communal farmer from the River Ranch area, Mr Godfrey Dube, said he was concerned with the level of destruction in the communal grazing lands.

He said the community’s fear was that the pastures will deplete should there be low rains in the coming summer cropping season.

Mr Rueben Shoko from Malala said more people were volunteering daily to fight the fire. “We have been fighting this fire for more than seven days and our hearts are bleeding as livestock farmers,” he said. “However, we will soldier on until we contain it.”

Chief Tshitaudze said the state of affairs was worrying considering that the district lost hundreds of cattle in the last pair of successive droughts.

He said it was critical for communal members from the surrounding awards to work together in containing the fire.

“The fire is uncontrollable. We need professional assistance so that we don’t lose the volunteers trying to put out the fire,” said Chief Tshitaudze. “At the same time, let’s avoid starting unnecessary fires. Pastures are very critical in sustaining our livestock economy.”

Chief Tshitaudze said they had agreed in principle as community leaders to fine those caught starting forestry fires.

He encouraged the disaster risk management committee to ensure that at least in every rural homestead people were trained in basic fire management.

Meanwhile, an 80-year-old security guard at a Banket farm was burnt to death as he failed to escape ravaging veld fire that blazed through a local farming community over the weekend.

Sakatiza Mariza, of Plumstead Farm, was coming from night duty at St John’s Farm near Banket when the inferno ravaged the area.

His partial blindness is believed to have contributed to his failure to calculate the reaction time.

The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained, with Environmental Management Agency and police still conducting investigations.

In a statement yesterday, EMA confirmed the incident before calling on all to be on guard against veld fires which the nation experiences from July to November.

“There is a veld fire which occurred in ward 34 of Zvimba District on the 19th of August 2022. Our preliminary investigations indicate that the veld fire razed four farms namely Ngwarati, St Johns, Makwidiba and Plumstead Farms,” said EMA in the statement.

“Although investigations are still in progress to establish the exact cause of the fire and extent of damage, preliminary findings indicate that low fireguard uptake by the farmers exacerbated the extent of the fire.”

EMA warned people against starting of open fires outside residential or commercial premises during the period from 31 July to 30 November of 2022 as directed by a formal gazetted order.

“Any contravention of this provision is a prosecutable offence in terms of Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007 (Environmental Impact Assessment and Ecosystems Protection Regulations). Farmers should take advantage of the prevailing wet spell and construct standard fire guards of at least 9m wide or more around their farms/properties. Make sure that your fire guards are cleared and free from any flammable material,” said EMA.

The octogenarian is believed to have been walking through a path between tall grasses when the unfortunate incident happened.

The fire also destroyed large tracts of land.

Mr Mariza’s body was identified by Isiah Mutero (66) of Plot 4 Plumstead Farm, who was driving through St John’s – Plunstead Farm road.

He alerted people at the nearby Plumstead Farm compound, and mob came to investigate, with his son, Costa Mariza, identifying Mr Mariza’s body.

The body was conveyed to Banket District Hospital for a post mortem, whilst foul play was ruled out.Herald

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