Tears flow freely as Theresa Zhakata tells how her grandson, Blessing Mashura, was fatally injured in a veld fire in 2012.
“It was so painful. I still can’t believe it and it haunts me to this day. He didn’t even cause the fire. When my grandson died, I realised that veld fires were a threat to human life,” she said.
Zhakata said the painful death of her grade three grandson changed her perception and that of her fellow villagers about the intensity of environmental hazards. The incident marked a turning point in how villagers in the two areas relate to the environment.
Prior to this heart-rending incident, villagers resisted efforts by the Environmental Management Agency to raise awareness over the dangers of veld fires and other environmental hazards.
Villages like Nyazura, Rusape and Headlands are prone to veld fires. Apart from this unfortunate death, villagers have, for years, been battling veld fires and have lost hectares of planted land, livestock and property. They are also prone to hazards such as littering and water pollution.
Recent statistics from the EMA indicate that 12 people died in veld fires in 2014 and that 1,653,822 hectares of land was destroyed. In 2013 only four deaths were reported. In 2009, 10 people died, 25 in 2010, five casualties were recorded in 2011 and 16 in 2012.
EMA public relations officer, Steady Kangata, said that property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars was destroyed in the process. “Property worth $240 275 was destroyed by veld fires last year. The incidents of veld fires increased to 2,575 compared to 1,981 recorded in 2013,” he said.
Kangata said communities should start creating fire breaks in order to reduce the damage caused by run-away veld fires.
Mashura’s painful death, coupled with the frightening national stats, has encouraged women to spearhead initiatives to protect their communities. With the aid of the EMA, they have established fire-fighting teams, headed by Zhakata, the deceased child's grandmother.
The reactionary committee has successfully attended to a record 97 veld fires, that threatened to destroy properties, livestock and people.
Fire committee vice chairperson, Judith Dale, had this to say; “We thank the EMA for being patient with us. When they first approached us, we resisted, but this was out of ignorance. When we lost the child, we realised just how dangerous it was to us, to our property and our livestock,” said Dale.
She appealed to fellow villagers to acknowledge the dangers of fires and the need to protect natural vegetation. Villagers are erecting 9 x 9 m wide fire breaks for the coming season.
Zhakata said that her team also guarded against the rampant cutting down of trees and the unnecessary digging of pits.
“We make sure that we limit the cutting of trees. We replace any tree that has been cut down and minimise digging unnecessary pits for the safety of our livestock,” she said.
The fire-fighting committee has received support, training and equipment from the EMA as well as resources such as 10 bicycles, 12 fire beaters and protective clothing.
“We have established close ties with villagers in our fight against environmental hazards. It wasn’t easy at first, but they are finally coming around. It is unfortunate that it took the death of a child to get them to heed the call though. We offer technical support in the form of training and equipment,” said the EMA eastern region public relations officer, Alice Chiwese.
Due to the effects of climate change and changing weather patterns, it is recommended that fire protection procedures be in place from the end of May to the end of October as the negative effects of veld fires are already being experienced countrywide.Post published in: News