Minister launches National Veld & Forest Fire Working Group

July 14, 2016

Senzeni Zokwana, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana launched the National Veld and Forest Fire Working Group recently to mark the start of the 2016 winter fire season.

“The National Veld and Forest Fire Act, 1998 supports the implementation of integrated fire management as a methodology to reduce damaging wildfires and encourage improved land management techniques, including that of using fire as a beneficial land management tool,” said the Minister.

“This legislation places a duty to care and the responsibility to manage fires upon all landowners, both public and private, on whose land a veldfire may start or spread.

“Accordingly, together with interested stakeholders, my Department has established a National Veld and Forest Fire Working Group to strengthen our mandate with regard to the implementation of this legislation and the Integrated National Forest Protection Strategy.”

The Minister referred to Chapter 2 of the National Veld and Forest Fire Act (1998) which makes provision for the formation of Fire Protection Associations (FPAs) in high fire risk areas of the country.

“FPAs are community-based voluntary organisations that are formed to prevent, fight and manage veldfires. They subscribe to the principle of freedom of association. That means landowners are not compelled to be members of the FPAs, but have a legislative obligation to prevent the start and spread of fires in their land.

“The success of these FPA institutions has been hampered by insufficient financial support (which we are currently addressing in terms of section 7 of this Act). FPAs are also having challenges of failure to comply with the provisions of this legislation by the landowners - including government departments and municipalities. Please note, failure by government departments and municipalities to join FPAs is a major concern to me and must be addressed through engagement.”

The Minister warned that the current drought in South Africa has increased the risk of disaster wildfires, and urged stakeholders to ensure that:
• Awareness campaigns aimed at encouraging landowners to join Fire Protection Associations are undertaken;
• Firebreaks are in place;
• Fire fighting equipment such as radios, skid units have been checked, serviced properly and are ready;
• Memorandums of understanding between Fire Protection Associations are in place;
• Update all contacts of key people within all fire management units;
• Agreements with other fire fighting agencies like Working on Fire are in place.
• Ground crews are trained and where necessary attend refresher courses;
• Emergency services, including South African Police Services, are involved in planning operations.

In conclusion, Minister Zokwana said that the Disaster Management centres play a crucial role in terms of coordinating disaster management plans at local and district municipal level.

“It is important that Fire Protection Associations cooperate with these centres to access fire fighting resources, relevant information and to complement the resources of the municipalities.”

National Veld & Forest Fire Working Group
The purpose of the National Veld and Forest Fire Working Group is:
• To highlight the various aspects of fire protection, through a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach as outlined by the National Forest Protection Strategy.
• Advise the Directorate: Forestry Development and Regulations on matters relating to veldfire disaster management.
• Provide a platform for consultation between all veldfire stakeholders.
• Advise DAFF on the implementation of the NVFFA, including cooperative government arrangements in this respect.
• Propose research initiatives on veldfire management.
• Monitor and evaluate strategies put in place by the Department to improve veldfire management in the country.
• Provide advice on veldfire management training and capacity building.
• Provide advice on how existing resources for veldfire management can be optimally utilised.
• Make recommendations on the formulation and amendment of policies and/ or legislation
• Ensure that all fire management activities are compliant with and supported by appropriate legislation.

The Working Group comprises representatives from:
• Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
• Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs
• Department of Land and Rural Development
• Department of Environmental Affairs
• National Disaster Management Centre
• South African Local Government Association
• Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research
• Insurance industry dealing with veldfire insurance
• Working on Fire
• Any relevant United Nations agency
• Umbrella Fire Protection Associations
• Other government departments as may be necessary
• State Owned Entities including Eskom, Sanral, Telkom, SANParks and Transnet.

The Working Group will meet at least four times a year.

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