The farming community of Sutherland in the Karoo is begging for help as their lives fall apart because of a prolonged six-year drought.
“Our situation is grim,” said Hester Obermeyer, a member of the region’s drought-relief committee, “Farmers plan for one, two years of drought. But never in their wildest dreams did they think a drought would last this long.
Over 200 farm workers have been laid off by farmers who are defaulting on their loans, unable to pay their debts for feed or fertiliser. Some who are able to eke a crop of potatoes from the dry ground, cannot afford to buy fuel to get their harvest to the market.
The town which is famously known for its giant telescope, is also faced with the fact that each farm worker is supporting at least seven people, leading to a combination of unemployment and cash-strapped farmers.
The number of sheep has dropped from 400 000 before the drought to the 57 000 due to hunger and inability to fight off bacteria. All of this leaves farmers with severely depleted incomes, and they are unable to pay off loans.
The drought has a ripple effect of stripping businesses in the region of their normal turnover, as farmers do not have money to pay off their accounts, or replenish anything.
The terrain itself is under severe stress, with underground water tables dropping, and bushes with no leaves so the plants are unable to photosynthesis.
Save our Sheep founder, Derick Hanekom said that there is so little greenery left that the sheep surround the farm house and bleat for food.
Gift of the Givers has been assisting with drilling boreholes for the region but pumps also have to be purchased for some of the farmers who initially thought they would be fine.
On Thursday, Santam announced that it would donate R300 000 to the Agri SA Drought Relief Fund.
“The ongoing drought in Sutherland in the Northern Cape has caused a devastating decline in the sheep breeding population and placed the town’s economy under tremendous strain,” a statement said.
“In light of this, leading South African insurer Santam has donated R300 000 to the Agri SA Drought Relief Fund which aims to provide relief to farmers, farm workers and the community of Sutherland.”
It is hoped that this would also help farmers raise the sheep that are the “backbone” of the town.
Hanekom said people feel that rain is expected “any day now”, but even if it rains, farmers will have to start from scratch again to rebuild all they have lost. This will take years.
Obermeyer said a multitude of towns in the region are struggling through the drought. The Sutherland Drought Committee, Gift of the Givers, Boere in Nood and other philanthropists are doing their best, but are still in dire need of more help.