Flood-hit Cape farmers call for a state of disaster

Western Cape farmers are calling for a state of disaster to be declared – after unprecedented flood waters ravaged crops, washed away roads, swept away shacks, and destroyed infrastructure. One of those farmers is Justin Mudge, the owner of Chiltern Farms, who says they “desperately require intervention”. He speaks to BizNews of the destruction, displacement, devastation, and desperation in the area. Mudge describes how generators have run non-stop since Sunday to keep cool half a billion rands worth of fruit in cold storage that still needs to be packed for export. He describes how workers from the informal settlement had all their possessions swept away by the raging storm waters. And warns that some farmers will find it very hard to recover from the significant damage.Chris Steyn

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:09 – Introductions
  • 00:36 – Justin Mudge on the damage his farm has suffered
  • 02:18 – The people he employs that have been affected
  • 04:21 – Farms that have been worst hit
  • 05:23 – Can the blueberry harvest be saved
  • 06:44 – Is this the worst storm experienced
  • 07:47 – Another challenging year for farmers
  • 09:48 – What do the farmers need from national and provincial government right now
  • 11:26 – Conclusions

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Highlights from the Interview

Western Cape farmers are calling for a state of disaster to be declared – after unprecedented flood waters ravaged crops, washed away roads, swept away shacks, and destroyed infrastructure. 

One of those farmers is Justin Mudge, the owner of Chiltern Farms. He says they “desperately require intervention”.

Mudge speaks to BizNews of the destruction, displacement, devastation, and desperation in the area.

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“I think what we would really like to see is that additional resources are being deployed to our region. You know, we’ve been without power for five or six days now. And because of the isolation, you know, we haven’t been able to get the rescue teams or the repair teams in from 

ESKOM. We desperately, desperately need them to get back into the area and to quickly restore power to our communities and to our organisations. 

“You know, there’s my conservative calculation, there’s still half a billion rands worth of fruit sitting in cold storage here that needs to be packed, exported and kept cool. And if we, you know, and we’re just burning diesel to keep our plants running, you know, I guess…

“I say this very carefully, we are fortunate that load shedding has prepared us with the emergency power back-up, but my generator overheated yesterday because it’s been running non-stop since Sunday night. 

“So we desperately require intervention – and that it is recognised as a disaster and additional resources are deployed to the area.”

He relates how rivers have swept away hectares of orchards on some farms. “…rivers changing course and doing such significant damage that it will be very hard for them to recover from that. And, you know, the reparation work just to get the infrastructure going up, you know, will be an incredible burden on some of our farmers.”

Mudge – who employs 1800 people in peak berry-harvesting season – describes how many farm workers from the informal settlement had lost everything. 

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“If I look at the harshest hit and the people that are least able to cope with this, of course, are the informal settlements from which we draw the majority of our personnel…,” he says.

“They have suffered devastating effects and many will have lost…You know, the entire shacks have been washed away. They, you know, would have lost their possessions, little that they have. So, you know, a very great concern for our employees and our wider community.”

The good news is that power was restored to Villiersdorp in the early hours of the morning. “And so hopefully they will be able to rectify availability to water, but for five days, you know, they ran out of water two days ago, there was no potable water up in the informal settlements. 

“We became a cash society because there was no power to power the banking facilities. And so you couldn’t draw cash, but you needed cash because they couldn’t tap your card or swipe your card. And so, you know, it was a humanitarian disaster over and above the devastating effects of the floods.”

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