The Portfolio Committee on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries conducted public hearings on the National Veld and Forest Fire Amendment Bill in KwaZulu-Natal's Zululand District Municipality yesterday, where the majority of participants supported the Bill.
They told the committee that their municipalities do not have fire brigades, nor the necessary equipment. People and livestock die when fires break out, but local municipalities do not have the equipment to deal with them.
Participants in the hearings said the government must train the youth in firefighting and that every community should have fire fighters who stay in the area. These areas are mountainous, with thick bushes, and fire fighters need helicopters in these cases. A distinction should also be made between veld fires, fires that take place in rural areas and fires that happen in well-developed areas
Inkosi Buthelezi told the committee that he supports the Bill. However, it has come very late, when things are already out of control. People should be arrested when they start fires, he said. A distinction should also be made between veld fires, fires that take place in rural areas and fires that happen in well-developed areas. Those who live in rural areas are poorly equipped to deal with fires and satellite stations should be set up in rural areas.
Inkosi Buthelezi also welcomed the fact that traditional leaders are included in the Bill. He also said that the youth in rural areas should be made aware that a career can be made in firefighting and a budget is needed for this. He proposed that a clear programme is needed so that rural people are not side-lined.
The community asked the Chairperson of the Environment, Forestry and Fisheries portfolio committee, Ms Faith Muthambi, to inform the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development that the issue of land ownership is still unresolved. They asked the Minister to visit them and report back to the community on the matter. The Chairperson undertook to do this on their behalf. She also said committee members will return to their respective parties and reflect on today's suggestions and inputs. "We will say to our principals that our people say that they want their land."
The Chairperson told the meeting that when the Bill becomes an Act, the committee will report back to them via the local radio station, Abaqulusi FM, or via the municipality. "There are so many laws that are passed in Parliament and we ask you to make an input into them, but when they are passed, we don't tell you. We need to take your recommendation that we must give you feedback."
Once the committee has consulted all the nine provinces on the Bill, the amendments will be adopted by the National Assembly to be forwarded to the President for his signature. The Chairperson thanked the traditional leaders and the residents of the five local municipalities who attended the public hearings. "This is what you call democracy in action," Ms Muthambi said, "when there is public participation."