Pretoria – Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Des van Rooyen on Monday visited fire damaged areas around the Western Cape to assess the destruction sustained.
Firefighters had their hands full last week as they battled with wildfires in Somerset West and its surrounds.
The devastating wildfires, which stretched firefighting resources, destroyed luxury lodges and caused damage estimated at millions of rands.
The visit by Minister Van Rooyen provided an opportunity to meet with various stakeholders, including Western Cape Local Government MEC Anton Bredell, mayoral committee member JP Smith and the provincial disaster management teams.
The Minister was briefed on the work that was done to bring the fires under control in the affected areas.
After assessing the affected areas, the Minister said it was clear that the efforts of the firefighting teams, who battled the inferno under difficult conditions and terrain, went a long way to save lives and property.
“It is through the dedication and selfless work by all involved that the loss of life as well as major property and ecological losses were averted,” the Minister said in a statement issued after his visit.
He expressed appreciation and gratitude to all stakeholders and the teams that worked tirelessly to bring the fires under control. This success, he said, stems from the good working relations between the various spheres of government, as resources were combined for maximum impact.
“This is a good example of how we can achieve the best results by combining our resources to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the public and our natural resources,” said Minister Van Rooyen.
He went on to urge stakeholders, communities, land owners, farmers and other organisations to play their part in ensuring that fires are prevented because containing them is an expensive exercise.
All stakeholders, including schools, should be engaged to educate society about the dangers of fires, as this cannot be left to government alone, Minister Van Rooyen said.
“Since most of the fires are started by humans, it is important to impose harsher penalties on those who are convicted of such crimes.
“[My department] will support and work with other departments to look at how, through legislative review, penalties for those who start fires are harsher and that such cases are given a priority and treated with the urgency they deserve,” the Minister said.
Where required, he said, government will motivate for more resources to be made available to strengthen capacity to respond effectively to disasters like fires and floods within the nationally adopted cost saving guidelines.