Wildeklawer farm in Barkly-West in the Northern Cape finds itself in the grip of sorrow after three individuals tragically lost their lives after being struck by lightning during the past week. The close-knit farming community is grappling with the shock of this natural disaster.
Cora de Kock, co-owner of Wildeklawer farm, says nothing like this has happened on the farm for 37 years.
On Wednesday, roughly around 16:20, a large team of workers were in the fields. “The summer months bring peak activity with around 2000 people working daily. On Wednesday, our foreman recognised the change in weather with what looked like rain approaching,” says De Kock.
Sam Stevens, foreman at Wildeklawer, instructed everyone to leave the fields. The weather service did not predict this weather and what happened next occurred in a matter of minutes.
“When rain approaches, the farm deploys busses as a standard practice. These busses provide shelter for employees until the weather subsides, ensuring that no one is exposed to the dangers of working in rain or lightning. The employees were already heading to the warehouse. As we approached with the bus, lightning struck. It wasn’t even that loud,” remembers Stevens. “It hadn’t started to rain yet but directly after the first lightning struck, a second one struck approximately 110 m away from the first one. Nine people were struck to the ground. Onneile Andrew Koji (51), from Taung and Moatlhodi Godfrey Mokoena (26), from Barkly-West, died on impact. Only after that did it start to rain.”
Stevens says everyone was very frightened. “We ran around to help everyone. We called Rocket HEMS, the air ambulance, to airlift one injured person. The other six were taken by ambulance to Mediclinic Gariep.” All seven people has since been discharged from hospital.
However, nature struck again on Friday at another farm, Romance, just opposite Riverton.
De Kock says Lemogang Anthony Selebogo (19) was struck in the fields and passed away. “My son-in-law, who works on the farm, was also close by in the fields when the lightning struck. The employees were already evacuated when they noticed the weather becoming overcast and were waiting in the busses. Again, the rain only started after the lightning struck. Can you imagine the trauma if something like this happens right next to you? The affected employees have been receiving counselling since Friday. Our hearts go out to the families affected and we mourn the lives lost. This is an incredibly sad time.”
Stevens said everyone will be attending the funerals of Koji and Mokoena on Saturday, with a date yet to be set for Selebogo’s funeral. Wildeklawer has undertaken to pay for all three funerals. “We are extremely sad about what happened and support the families during this time of loss.”