‘It eats your soul’ - Sutherland farmers band together as drought wears on

14 June 2018 - 07:00 By Nora Shelly
Gift of the Givers team arrived with two rigs‚ to commence the drilling process to establish 200 new boreholes at a cost of R15-million.
Gift of the Givers team arrived with two rigs‚ to commence the drilling process to establish 200 new boreholes at a cost of R15-million.
Image: Gift of the Givers via Facebook

A drought in Sutherland that is drying up farmland boreholes is wearing on the farmers in the area.

“It takes a lot out of you‚ this drought‚ it really eats at your soul‚” said Abra Van Wyck‚ president of the Farmer’s Union in the Karoo town.

With no good rainfall in the cold and remote area since 2013‚ Van Wyck said boreholes have slowly dried up‚ making it harder to raise the sheep that are the backbone of the farming industry.

Van Wyck said the estimates were that the sheep population has been decimated‚ declining from 400‚000 to 130‚000 since 2013.

The drought‚ and its impact on the area’s sheep population‚ has also hurt morale around town.

“We’ve been dealing with this for so long‚” said Hester Obermeyer‚ who is on a drought committee.

“Every day you get up‚ every day you check the horizon for clouds‚ and you wonder‚ ‘is this the day the rain is going to come? Is this the day we’re going to be blessed? Is this the day the drought is going to end?’‚” he said.

Obermeyer said most people in town couldn’t help but talk about the drought constantly‚ as cash-strapped farmers cope with diminishing sheep herds and higher prices for feed. Obermeyer said she knew of over 50 farmers who are unable to pay their bills‚ and estimated that about 200 farm workers have lost their jobs since the drought began.

Although the tourism‚ centered around the South African Astronomical Observatory‚ has not been hurt‚ businesses in town are taking a hit as more and more farm workers become unemployed.

Milne Swanepoel‚ the manager at the Sutherland Hotel‚ said they were seeing fewer farmers come into their restaurant.

But the town‚ he said‚ was still trying to stay positive. Farmers were allowing their neighbours to come in to get water‚ and a committee was formed in November to help farmers deal with the impacts of the drought.

“We realised this little town of ours is going under at the speed of light‚” Obermeyer said. “Everybody is getting together to try to save our town.”

The committee started helping the farmers buy feed collectively and have sent out appeals for donations. A group of women have even started crocheting small sheep and making T-shirts to sell to buy maize.

This week‚ charitable organisation Gift of the Givers went in with hydrologists to drill more holes for water. The organisation was also bringing in feed and other supplies for the farmers as well as water tanks and bottled water. On the first day they were in town‚ they drilled a borehole that produced potable water.

“On Monday when the first drill started and the water was found‚ the tears were flowing‚” Obermeyer said. “Grown men were crying…it was just such an uplifting experience.”