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Speech delivered by Deputy Director General Dr Nonhlanhla Mkhize on behalf of the Deputy Minister at the 2nd Annual Free State Wildfire Expo in Bloemfontein


Be-Human at Middelwater Farm, R30 Brandfort Road, Bloemfontein, Free State

03 May 2024 


Programme Director Officials from the Free State Provincial Disaster Management Centre, Fire Protection Association members,     
Stakeholders from the Agriculture sector,     
Landowners, Management and Firefighters from the Working on Fire and Kishugu Joint Venture     
Distinguished guests     
Ladies and gentlemen

I am delighted to be delivering this speech during this very important month when the winter fire season is just starting. 

This is a perfect moment for all of us to meet and reflect on the mechanisms that we must put in place to prevent yet another looming disaster ahead of us. 

During the 2023 fire season the Free State province experienced six thousand seven hundred and seventy-nine veldfires, impacting a total of seven hundred and twenty-one thousand hectares. 

Four people tragically lost their lives while six more sustained live threatening injuries and a further eight persons required extended hospitalisation. 

Hundreds of cattle and more than a thousand sheep and goats, and innumerable wildlife succumbed in the onslaught of veldfires. 

Added to this carnage is the loss of property and infrastructure that impacts lives and livelihoods of people in the rural as well as the wildland-urban interface. 

The Northern Cape also experienced yet another extreme fire season, we only need to refer to the Danielskuil and Lohatla Combat Training Centre fires to highlight the scope and intensity of the veldfires that is experienced in our largest province. 

While the effects of uncontrolled veldfires on the agricultural sector is highlighted the impact on other economic sectors should not be underestimated. 

Unfortunately, the economically vulnerable continuously face extreme hardship when their efforts to sustain their families and improve their lives in the communal areas of the Free State and Northern Cape are razed annually. 

The Central South African Region has received above-normal rainfall for three successive seasons in a row and in spite of the drier summer season fuel loads remain high and are likely to trigger yet another above-normal fire season. 

If this above-normal fire season forecast occurs, it is likely to be severe and have dire consequences for farmers and landowners in general. It is important that we have this type of engagement so that we assess our state of readiness in dealing with this predicted imminent disaster and work together to improve systems to prevent and reduce this risk. 

With global warming exacerbated through climate change, temperatures will rise over the next couple of decades which will lead to dryer conditions. This will lead to more frequent wildland fires fueled by hotter and drier conditions as global temperatures rise. 

The increasing risks associated with the threat of wildfires, especially in South Africa’s traditional winter fire season provinces, will remain a concern. 

Drier and warmer temperatures have often been the cause of major catastrophic fires in these regions, and with the added presence of El Niño, and drier vegetation, fueled by strong winds and warm atmospheric conditions, we should be prepared and ready to respond to more frequent wildfire disasters during our winter fires season months. 

We need to be ready to mitigate and respond to the risks associated with climate change and global warming. The time to act is NOW! 

The collaborative efforts of firefighting teams, including just over 600 firefighters from our Working on Fire programme, are crucial in navigating this complex interplay and mitigating the devastating impact of wildfires on the natural environment and communities. 

These firefighters are stationed at 26 bases with various Fire Protection Aspiciations and also with SANParks. 

Addressing both the immediate challenges and the underlying contributors is essential for effective wildfire management and long-term climate resilience. 

The Department’s Working on Fire programme, with its extensive ground and aerial resources, remains committed to supporting local authorities and communities, working collaboratively to mitigate the impact of these devastating fires and protect our natural environment. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Chapter 2 of the National Veld and Forest Fire Act, 1998 makes provision for the formation of Fire Protection Associations (FPAs) in high fire risk areas of the country. 

The success of these FPAs has been hampered by among others, insufficient financial support (which we are currently addressing in terms of section 7 of the NVFFA) as well as the numerous small FPAs within the Free State that operate in silos. 

The long-term strategy for the province must be to link up the smaller FPAs into cohesive units and to “Grow” FPAs where a District is not fully represented. 

An integrated organizational approach is the only way to ensure timely action to veldfires and provides a mechanism for achieving better outcomes by allowing the fire services authorities, fire agencies and landowners to effectively work together before, during and after a veldfire. 

Aligning Free State FPAs with District Municipalities will enable them to allow for greater participation as research has shown that larger FPAs are more sustainable and enable the meaningful participation of Municipalities and other regional and national role-players as well as economically vulnerable land users. 

The soundness of this approach is evident in the Mangaung Metro as well as the Thabo Mofutsanyane Districts of the Free State, while the recent successful restructuring and alignment of Northern Cape FPAs is already producing dividends. 

Although Institutional arrangements are important in enabling FPAs to have developed structures and systems to prevent and fight veldfires, the individual responsibilities of each landowner remain important. I, therefore, urge all landowners to ensure that they are ready and prepared for this year’s fire season by, amongst others, ensuring that the following are in place:

  • Awareness campaigns aimed at encouraging landowners to join Fire Protection Associations are undertaken. 

  • Firebreaks are in place; 

  • Firefighting equipment such as radios, and skid units have been checked, serviced properly and are ready;  

  • Memorandums of understanding between Fire Protection Associations are in place.  

  • Update all contacts of key people within all fire management units; 

  • Agreements with other fire fighting agencies like Working on Fire are in place. 

  • Ground crews are trained and where necessary attend refresher courses; and 

  • Emergency services including South African Police Services are involved in planning operations.

In conclusion, the Disaster Management centres play a crucial role in terms of coordinating disaster management plans that include fires at local and district municipal level. It is important that Fire Protection Associations cooperate with these centres to access firefighting resources, relevant information and to compliment the resources of the municipalities. 

As government, we are committed to working together with all our stakeholders and look forward to managing this year’s winter fire season as a collective. 

I thank you.


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