As veldt fires ravage Dutlwe village
The mouth-watering aroma of food wafts through the air from a Dutlwe Primary School kitchen as villagers prepare lunch for delegates attending a Botswana Housing Corporation groundbreaking ceremony.
A sizeable crowd has attended the event held just a stone’s throw away from the school, but as lunch time approaches the crowd swells gradually as hungry young men and women, more concerned about filling up their tummies than attending the humanitarian gesture by BHC, file up for the dining hall.
While the focus is now more on the lunch, the burning issue for village Chief Motshegetsi Puleng is not the aroma of the food but the smoke from the veldt fire that has already consumed some lands and grazing area and is fast approaching the village. Although the youth seem more resourceful when it comes to emptying the ceremony dishes, Puleng finds it very difficult to mobilise them to help extinguish the blazing fire.
“The fire started at the beginning of this month and the Police, Wildlife officers and a few villagers especially those whose property is under threat or has been damaged by the fire are the ones who are busy fighting the fire. Cooperation among the villagers is a major concern and because people, especially the youth want to get paid for fighting the fire. Most of them just lazy around and spend time drinking beer. What they probably don’t know is that they can get whipped four strokes or jailed for twelve months for refusing to take part,” he says.
By Saturday last week, Puleng said, the fire had caused a lot of damage in areas such as Maretlwe, Dore, Sekgwasentsho, Lobatse lands, Tshwaane and Khutse.
“Most lands and boreholes have been burnt down and the fire grows by the day because of the windy weather and the tall grass.”
Most youth interviewed by The Voice in the village showed little or no regard for the fire as they said they needed some monetary incentives.
Keodumetse ‘Ricos’ Japane, an unemployed 20-year old youth from Tshodwane cattle post who has trusted his nose enough to follow the aroma of the food to the school says the fire is still too far for his concern. “The fire is still about ten kilometres from here and our cattle post is on the other side of the village so I’m not really bothered. Besides, fire fighting involves a lot of risk and that is why the civil servants that take part get paid for that. Government has to come up with a reasonable package for volunteers. A man has to eat you know,” he says as he takes a bite at a piece of meat from his plate.
Another youth, 18-year old Lesedi Molelekwa also wants to get paid and trained on fire fighting. “The money has to be consistent with the allowance paid to government employees. To effectively fight the fire we all need common motivation. Government also has to train people on fire fighting because it can be very dangerous,” he says.
Kweneng District Coordinator in the department of Forestry and Range Resources, Kealeboga Kemoreile is aware of the lack of cooperation by some villagers but says it is a common problem.
“People have a wrong perception that civil servants get paid for fire fighting, but we always tell them in Kgotla meetings that we only get the mandatory P129.50 night out allowance. The issue of payment is still at ministerial level but at the moment there is an arrangement for the feeding of volunteers,” said Kemoreile.
He noted that the fire “is still growing and we are still assessing the extent of the damage in the area. The BDF have dispatched about fifty troops and we have Letlhakeng police, Takatokwane volunteers and wildlife officers and police from Dutlwe.”
The BHC lunch is over and after a heavy meal of samp, rice, sorghum and beef the villagers file off, but sadly as they head to the nearest bar, what most of the youth remember about the groundbreaking is the lunch and the veldt fire is a non-issue.