Drought Cripples the Central Karoo, 1933

Over the years the Karoo has seen many droughts and, even now despite good rains in the interior, Beaufort West’s Gamka Dam remains empty.  Droughts were reported in 1864, 1877, 1903, 1916, 1925 through to 1928.   The one considered to be the fiercest climaxed in 1933. Known as The Great Drought, it peaked after almost five years of little rain in large parts of the Karoo, north-western Cape and Orange Free State.  It reduced thousands of farmers to poverty and wiped out some once prosperous farms.  “The hinterland became a barren wasteland,” says Pieter Lund. Pieter gleaned most of these from The Farmer’s Weekly from 1930 to 1934. “Fortunately for my father, the lessons he had learned in earlier droughts carried him through. He applied a policy of lower stock numbers coupled to a conservative grazing strategy and this enabled him to survive without having to leave the farm.” It was a tough time said Pieter. “Vleis [swamps] and dams dried. Windmills clanked in vain over dry boreholes. Grazing withered and eventually even the karoo bush disappeared. Barren land stretched into the distance as far as the eye could see.  Across the Karoo, farmers were forced to abandon their land. Shepherds became drovers as stock was driven great distances in search of grazing. The railways offered preferential rates for the transport of livestock to any area where grazing was available.”  Severe financial constraints made it impossible for very many of the farmers to trek and, as the drought wore on, their animals became too weak to travel. Slaughter stock was in poor condition and far too lean to be sent to the abattoirs. In any event, there were very few buyers,” said Pieter.

© Rose’s Roundup, January 2011 (No 204)

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