By Simon Pooley (auth.)
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Extra resources for Burning Table Mountain: An Environmental History of Fire on the Cape Peninsula
These ﬁres were attributed to the carelessness of slaves and to vagrants. Lack of labour, tight controls by the VOC and infertile soils meant many of the ﬁrst European farmers at the Cape turned to livestock farming, learning to burn the veld to replenish grazing from the Khoikhoi. However, they tended to settle near permanent water sources and localised annual burning and grazing had a heavier environmental impact than Khoikhoi transhumance patterns. The ﬁrst signs of degradation were noted in the late 1720s, and in the 1770s Sparrman 28 Fire at the Cape from Prehistory to 1900 noted that burning to get rid of unpalatable renosterbos shrubs was having the opposite effect.
27 The Count toured the Colony’s forests in 1881, accompanied by Captain Christopher Harison. In the Division of George, he noted, ‘the periodical burnings, which are the sole attention paid to the larger part of the soil of each farm’ rendered tree growth impossible and destroyed those trees which ‘originally adorned the kloofs’. Inspecting the unforested land, he noted that the cultivation of cereals was very small in the George, Knysna and Humansdorp region, with the remainder being used to graze cattle, ‘the grass .
23 Settler farmers also burned off stubble from old ﬁelds to prepare the ground for new crops. 1708–1711) instructs that the correct times to burn are in the dry summer season, commencing when ‘the southeaster . . [established] its sole supremacy’ in November, with the best month being February as ‘the roots of the grass burn, and the great heat dries up the rest’. 24 A series of placaats forbidding unauthorised veld burning, including the threat of hanging for a second offence (placaat 215 of 19 February 1687), suggests that veld burning was common throughout the latter half of the seventeenth century.