“If the river was running, Dad would never have done it.”
These are the words of an eight-year-old boy at his father’s funeral in 2017.
Sutherland sheep farmer Sybil Visagie said the boy’s father, a fellow farmer, had taken his own life because of the stress of a crippling five-year drought in the Northern Cape.
Visagie has known the family – who she did not want to name – for a very long time.
She said everything was going well for the boy’s father until a “dry spell” in 2012 signalled changing fortunes.
“The next year we had an official drought, and by 2014 his farm had run out of available grazing. He had to start buying feed but kept falling behind on his bond repayment,” said Visagie.
He shot himself on the farm he had tried so hard to hold on to.
Visagie said she knew of three other farmers who had taken their lives in the area over the past few years.
Gift of the Givers, an NGO that has been assisting drought-stricken farmers across SA, has recorded eight suicides by farmers since 2014 because of drought, and two more suspected to have been due to drought, said its founder, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman.
He said several more farmers had suffered heart attacks due to the stress of no longer being able to provide for their families, their workers and their flocks or herds.
According to the latest Agri SA Agricultural Drought Report, emotional support to farmers is as important as financial aid, fodder and boreholes.
More than half the farmers the organisation spoke to indicated they were suffering from some form of depression, anxiety or other behavioural health problems because of the drought.
Agri Western Cape CEO Jannie Strydom said the department of agriculture is working with regional representatives to identify farmers who may need counselling.
“Producers’ livelihoods are under severe pressure and it impacts on their state of mind,” he said.
Joyene Isaacs, head of the department of agriculture in the Western Cape, is organising counselling sessions with spiritual leaders for farmers.
“I know of two farmers who committed suicide because of the drought,” she said. “We are using local leaders of all denominations to assist farmers because outsiders don’t really understand the area and the cultures here.”
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BY: ALEX PATRICK
SOURCE: TMG DIGITAL