Newsletter #78

Fire Season not over yet!

We are now in the midst of the danger time for veld fires. Until good rain has fallen, we must therefore do everything in our power to prevent veld fires. Up to now, members of the Hartebeestfontein Fire Protection Association (FPA) have successfully kept fires out of the Hartebeestfontein area and have controlled a number of small fires before they could become runaway fires that could have caused much damage. Except for a few incidents where there is no control on government property or properties of landowners who don’t belong to the FPA, not much damage was caused.

Two veld fires that burned out of control in the Steynshoop area occurred because landowners in that area are not members of either the Conservancy or the FPA, and there is therefore no communication between those landowners and the Hartebeestfontein community.

In both instances, the fires were not reported by the community, and if FPA members had not noticed the fires and offered their assistance, the damage would probably have been much worse.

It has to be emphasised once again that nobody should believe that he or she will be able to stop or control a veld fire burning out of control. Such a fire can only be stopped or controlled in an organised way, with the correct equipment, proper communication and control among land owners, the fire fighters and the control point. All involved have specific functions, and if these functions are not coordinated the damage may be much worse and people can suffer serious injuries or even be killed.

In rural areas all should be aware that it will take emergency services (fire brigade, paramedics and ambulance) more than an hour before they’ll be able to render assistance. A strong wind can cause a fire to spread over kilometres in a few minutes. Thatched roofs that are up to 100m or further away from a fire can still catch fire from sparks blown by the wind. Such roofs should be kept wet in cases where veld fires are burning towards it.

(Photographs are of the veld fire at Steynshoop on 5 August 2015).

Deon Greyling


Arbor week

The first week of September is Arbor week. 

This year’s common tree of the year is the Forest bushwillow (Combretum krausii), which is common in all the northern provinces, Kwazulu-Natal, Swaziland and Mpumalanga, and the eastern parts of Gauteng, and the rather uncommon Parsley tree (Heteromorpha arborescens (trifoliata)), which occurs in the Free State northwards, large areas of Gauteng, as well as the eastern parts of the Karoo and the western Cape.

The Forest bushwillow occurs in evergreen forest and in thick bushy habitats where rainfall is good or groundwater abundant. It is an upright tree of 6 – 8m, with a dense canopy, and much less deciduous than its relatives, the leafless period being only about a month. The changes in foliage colour are interesting. In spring, some or all of the new leaves are white, turning to pale green as the season advances. Mature leaves are dark green, interspersed with the occasional bright red leaf. Fruiting can be spectacular too, a fiery pink blush diffusing throughout the canopy in middle to late summer. This tree is a great success in the garden. Growth is rapid, about 80cm per year, and it can tolerate moderate frost. Young stems are pliable and are used in basket-making. Sawdust can cause skin irritation. (The photo was taken by JMK, on 7 June 2012, at Louwsburg, Kwazulu-Natal).

Source: https://commons.wikimedia,org/wiki.

The Parsley tree occurs in many habitats and climates, ranging from moist evergreen forest to hot dry woodland and montane grassland. It is a slender, multi-stemmed tree of about 7m with greenish yellow flowers. The bark is unique and most attractive, shiny and copper-coloured, regularly marked with horizontal bands. The tree has a variable deciduous period, its length depending on the severity of winter. It grows easily from seed, and the growth rate is rapid, often 2m and more per year initially. It tolerates considerable drought and can withstand severe frost. The leaves and roots, and the smoke from burning wood, are used medicinally.

(The photo was taken by JMK, on 14 October 2012, at Schanskop, Pretoria). Source: https://commons.wikimedia,org/wiki.

(Sources: Field guide to trees of Southern Africa by Braam & Piet van Wyk (1997) & Gardening with indigenous trees and shrubs, by David & Sally Johnson (1993).

Trees, shrubs, perennials and creepers can all be given a dressing of fertilizer, followed by a thorough watering. Enrich the soil by digging in compost as deeply as possible. Increase watering to once a week. (JoburgWest Get-it, August 2015).

Remember: Know, grow and protect SA’s indigenous flora!

Vultures and aviation

 Vultures evoke strong emotions from many different individuals and walks of life, including those of enthusiastic pilots from large fixed-wing aircrafts, helicopters to motorised and non-motorised gliders.

Vultures are seen as the masters of the skies and have adapted to make use of hot air currents also known as thermals to soar and glide as they forage, commute and play in our blue skies. Pilots flying non-motorised gliders make use of thermals for flying as well and thus use vultures, if and where possible, to locate thermals for successful and enjoyable flights. Generally, this is not a problem, but it does become a massive problem when pilots over step their mark and fly too close to vulture breeding, roosting and feeding sites, causing disturbance, chick fatalities from chicks jumping too early and parents abandoning their nests, egg or chicks due to fear and anguish. The same happens for fixed-wing aircrafts and helicopters when flying too low and too close to these selected and very specific sites which are easy to avoid. There is ample space away from these selected sites, and therefore there is no excuse or need to fly in close proximity or even at these sites whatsoever. Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres) colonies are found scattered around SA on suitable cliff faces such as that of the Magaliesberg (e.g. at Rietfontein). South Africa is the stronghold for the species, and they also breed in Lesotho and Botswana. They are now extinct as a breeding species in Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. There are under 4 000 breeding pairs left globally, and the species has now been up-listed to regionally endangered and globally vulnerable. It is a battle to stabilize populations, and even one lost egg or chick is one too many. Breeding season is from May through to and including December. Each and every pilot should respect our vultures and their habitat, and appreciate these magnificent birds in flight by keeping them safe and around to continue being the masters in flight. (Received via email, 5 August 2015).

For more information on breeding, roosting and feeding sites, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. so that these areas can be made no-fly zones. The magnificent photos were taken by Walter Neser.


The glyphosate debate


Research findings indicate that Glyphosate 2, 4-D and Dicamba (active ingredients in Roundup and other herbicides) were found to affect bacteria in ways that could promote resistance to common antibiotics. This is one of the most pressing public health crises of our time. Pesticide-included antibiotic resistance could also affect honeybees, since many commercial hives are now being treated with antibiotics (Elizabeth Grossman, Our Fragile Planet, no 17, May 2015).

The Glyphosate Carcinogenicity Report, published by the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer, is clearly written and provides a useful document in support of individuals and groups campaigning against glyphosate herbicide spraying. The report concluded that glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide in the world, is a Class 2A carcinogen. It causes cancer in animals and probably also in people. (Read the full report:

Because Roundup has long been described as the world’s safest pesticide, we decided to do some more research on the issue after having read the above quotations. It is used so widely that traces of it have been found in human breast milk and urine, as well as in bread and other food products. Following on the findings of experts of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that this pesticide was “probably” carcinogenic, an almighty row erupted involving multinational corporations, scientists, bakers, brewers and farmers – leaving consumers struggling to find out if they are in danger.

Many countries have already banned or restricted the use of glyphosate. Amongst others, however, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (the EU’s leader in research about this issue) has reacted with scepticism to the IARC’s findings and warns that more than 30 studies had concluded there was “no validated or significant relationship” between glyphosate and cancer among humans. Dr Kurt Straif of the IARC also added that “it could not clearly be said that it (glyphosate) is causing cancer in humans.” There were, however “strong evidence” that glyphosate is ‘genotoxic’, meaning that it damages DNA. Independent regulatory and safety assessments of glyphosate conducted by scientists at organisations like the National Institute of Health, the German Agency for Risk Assessment and the Georgetown University School of Medicine have found no consistent effects of glyphosate exposure on reproductive health and developing offspring. A study by prof Michelle McGuire, a scientist of the Washington State University, also found that glyphosate does not accumulate in mothers’ breast milk.

(Read more about the findings of this study:

Other well -known ‘carcinogens’:

Toast: Contains acrylamide, a genotoxic carcinogen produced as a result of cooking starch-rich food at high temperatures.

Coffee: A by-product of roasting coffee beans is acrylamide.

PVC-plastic: Emits a carcinogenic gas called vinyl chloride, better known as that not so lovely ‘new-car smell’.

Broccoli, onions and strawberries: Natural foods containing acetalhedyde, a carcinogen.

(Source: Glyphosate: Scientists urge caution over experts’ claims pesticide is ‘probably’ carcinogenic –

Environmental snippets

SA farmers’ nut export problems: About half of South Africa’s annual macadamia nut harvest (more than 22 000 tons) does not have any buyers. This comes after China has clamped down on importers who smuggled huge amounts of these nuts into their country. South Africa is the world’s largest producer of macadamia nuts, producing about 30% of the total stock. China is the biggest market for SA’s macadamia nuts, but up to now, Chinese buyers have avoided paying import tariffs. According to Derek Donkin, senior executive of the subtropical fruit growers’ association of South Africa, farmers who have worked with these Chinese traders will be forced to pay a 19% import tariff to China (Xolani Mbanjwa, Sake-Rapport, 26 July 2015). In addition, there are large quantities of almonds, walnuts and pecan nuts in transit from the US to Hong Kong, raising concerns that buyers may abandon these shipments at the port for fear of being caught (Mike Cordes, Farmer’s Weekly, 17 April 2015).

In the opinion of Daniel Zedan (chairman of Nature’s Finest Foods in America), the international market for pecan nuts is growing strongly. However, the Chinese market will have to be studied carefully, as they are not consumer driven, but trade driven. If the Chinese traders don’t make a profit, they will stop buying pecan nuts. Currently, Chinese farmers don’t pose any threat, as their cultivation techniques are old fashioned and their yield low. They do, however, invest a lot of money in research (Landbouweekblad, 10 July 2015).

The statement that electricity supply to people excluded before 1994 is the reason for load shedding is not true. Granted, 4,5 million households have been added to the grid, and homes with electricity increased from 44% to 85%. But household use is low, and it added only 5 % in demand while capacity went up by 11% (Prof Christo Viljoen, retired professional engineer and ex-member of the Eskom board and Electricity Control Board – now Nersa).

El Nino – another dry summer ahead? If current temperature developments in the southern Pacific Ocean persist, South Africans living on the Highveld can expect another dry summer at the end of this year, to follow on the already dry summer past. One should, however, be careful not to make a general rule for rainfall and temperature changes in El Nino years over southern Africa. The impact of El Nino is often reduced by the sufficient groundwater and soil moisture content carried over from previous seasons. This will, however, not be the case this year. The warm anomaly over the eastern equatorial Pacific – the typical indicator for an El Nino – has in recent weeks exceeded 1°C, and the sea temperature will probably continue increasing until December (Gauteng Smallholder, June 2015).

Rhino poaching in perspective: The exact number of Namibian black rhinos has always been kept a secret so as to not draw unwanted attention to them. However, this tradition has contributed to on-going poaching activities going unnoticed for much too long. According to the Namibian government, 62 black rhinos have been poached in the Etosha Game Reserve the past six months. However, sources within the park are of the opinion that about 80 have been poached. More than 400 of this critically endangered species were poached since 2005, with 70% of this number having been poached since 2012. Compared to the large numbers of white rhinos poached in South Africa, these numbers may seem insignificant, but they are significant: Namibia’s remaining 1 800 black rhinos represent 40% of the world population of about 4 500. One and a half centuries ago, there were 850 000 black rhinos (John Grobler, Rapport Weekliks, 9 August 2015).


Biggest health problem, fungi and obesity

Orange tree

Our oceans: Each and every day, 250 000 sharks are killed – mainly for making shark fin soup in the Far East.

 Only 2% of the world’s oceans is protected by legislation (Rapport Weekliks, 26 July 2015).

During the 24 days before Sylvester, the runaway Karoo lion, was eventually caught in the Nuweveld mountain range, he had killed 19 sheep, one donkey and a kudu. Although the lion had caused great consternation, there were considerably fewer livestock thieves in the area (Landbouweekblad, 10 July 2015).

Korea has the world’s most flowering cherry trees, also known as beotkkot namu. The trees don’t bear any fruit, and were planted purely for their annual, rather short-lived splendour of colour (Vrouekeur, 4 April 2014).

Citrus represents about 50% of all perishable South African export products (Landbouweekblad, 10 July 2015).

According to experts, obesity will soon surpass HIV as South Africa’s biggest health problem, and it will eventually cause the collapse of the country’s rather shaky health system. During the past nine years, government has spent more R23 milliard on treating and preventing life style related diseases associated with obesity. About 7 million people suffer from hypertension, which increases the risk of strokes and heart attacks, while 3,5 million people suffer from diabetes. Obesity is linked to half of all cases of diabetes and hypertension, and statistics show that specific types of cancer can also be associated with obesity. In addition, this is becoming a major problem among young people - 5% of all boys and 25% of all girls in South Africa are overweight or obese. According to prof Andre Kengne, director of the research unit of the Medical Research Council (MRC), indications are that non-infectious diseases will surpass infectious diseases as the main cause of death in developing countries such as South Africa, in the coming decades (Rapport, 12 July 2015).

Every year, more than a 1 000 South African mine workers are diagnosed with silicosis. This disease is caused by breathing in silica dust, thereby increasing mine workers’ vulnerability for contacting tuberculosis. In 2014, 1 063 cases of silicosis were reported by South African mines (Sake-Rapport, 28 June 2015).

The number of discouraged job seekers (people who want to work, but who have stopped looking for a job) increased with 37 000 to 2,4 million during the second quarter of 2015 (Rapport, 2 August 2015).

Fascinating fungi: More than a 100 000 different species of fungi have been identified worldwide. These include mushrooms, toadstools, mildew, ferment and mould. About 20% of people suffer from fungi infections, especially under their toe nails. A normal person’s skin is covered by fungi, which can be found on all parts of the skin. Most of these fungi don’t pose any threat at all, while some are necessary and valuable, and others can cause damage. Scientists of the National Research Institute for Human Genomes in Bethesda, Maryland, have found that about 80 different fungi species can be found on human heels, while about 60 different fungi species can be found under toe nails and 40 between the toes. Only about 10 fungi species can be found on a human’s head (Huisgenoot, 4 September 2014).


Laugh a little – Church ladies with typewriters

The sentences below actually appeared in church bulletins or were announced at church services.


  • The Fasting and Prayer Conference includes meals.
  • Scouts are saving aluminium cans, bLaugh a little – Church ladies with typewriters
  • The sentences below actually appeared in church bulletins or were announced at church services.
  • The Fasting and Prayer Conference includes meals.
  • Scouts are saving aluminium cans, bottles and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.
  • Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.
  • Don’t let worry kill you off – let the church help.
  • For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
  • Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.
  •  Bottles and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.
  • Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.
  • Don’t let worry kill you off – let the church help.
  • For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
  • Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.

Food for thought...

“You can only be who ‘you’ are. The moment you try to be something (or someone) you’re not, you lose your power” (Nicolas Schwartz).

“Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out” (JoburgWest Get-it, August 2015).

“In 100 years we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek to teaching Remedial English in college” (Joseph Sobran).

And finally...on stargazing

On a clear, dark night far away from light and air pollution, the human naked eye can see up to 3 500 individual stars. I wonder – do we gaze at stars because we are human, or are we human because we gaze at stars? (Vincent Nettman, Maropeng local astronomer).

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars” (Og Mandino).