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‘It’s every man for himself’: Why this farmer says he needs mental health help

  • Bayanda Maseko, who farms southeast of Johannesburg, lost more than 2 000 chickens and R100 000 at the end of 2022 because of loadshedding.
  • Last year, power outages were three times more than in five previous years — a total of 3 630 hours. Without electricity Maseko was unable to pump water to his chickens and keep his chicken house cool enough for the birds to survive the summer heat.
  • Maseko says psychological help is needed in an industry where “it’s every man for himself”. He spoke to Bhekisisa in the March episode of the monthly television show Health Beat, which focuses on how the blackouts are affecting people’s mental health.
  • This piece forms part of our #SliceofLife series. #SliceofLife stories are short, first-person accounts of people’s experiences.

“We have buried just over 2 000 chickens. We bought them in 2022. The day we put them in, the electricity went out for about three days.

“Chickens need water and they need [to be kept at] a certain temperature to survive. We could not [give them that] because of loadshedding.

“We had to burn them — in a pit, along with chemicals — to make sure we disposed of them in a safe way. 

“That was my breaking point. Seeing my dreams just go on hold.

“In December, we were supposed to open our first butchery. 

“We were planning to employ about eight more people for our production.

“But [instead] we had to dismiss two people because we had to downscale our operations.

“In the last year, I’ve lost just over R100 000 [because of loadshedding].

“It has affected my mental health. 

“Sometimes you’re not aware that your mind has been hurt. You just want to fix things and move on. 

“But if you’ve been traumatised, your mind needs help. You need to talk to somebody to go through a healing process.

“I don’t think there’s sufficient help for farmers to heal and start again. It’s every man for himself. 

“I fear for young farmers. I fear for my little children. I don’t know what the future holds for them.

“We are hoping and praying that someone will come through for us.

“We have so many dreams to be successful and to contribute to the economy of this beautiful country. But we don’t know how [long] we can [still] go. It’s scary.”

[WATCH] Why this farmer says he needs mental health help

Bayanda Maseko manages the operations on his family’s farm outside Nigel, south of Johannesburg. Maseko spoke to Mohale Moloi and Yolanda Mdzeke for the March episode of Health Beat, Bhekisisa’s monthly television show. The episode unpacks how power cuts have affected people’s mental health

There have been 372 days of scheduled power cuts from the beginning of 2021 to the end of March — of which only 75 were in 2021. The number of hours of loadshedding in 2022 was three times more than in the last five years. According to AgriSA, the agriculture sector lost more than R23-billion because of loadshedding between January and September 2022.

In an online survey by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) one in three people said loadshedding resulted in strained family relationships. Three-quarters said being expected to produce the same amount of work despite having sporadic power supply caused stress. Four in 10 people reported feeling depressed because of loadshedding and six in 10 struggled with anxiety and panic because of power cuts.

If you are struggling with your mental health, you can call SADAG’s 24-hour helpline toll free. Sadag: 0800 456 789. Lifeline SA has a Whatsapp service to book a session with their counsellors. Add 065 989 9238 to your phone book and send them a message.

Mohale Moloi worked at Bhekisisa as a television producer and health journalist from July 2021 to March 2024.

Yolanda Mdzeke is a multimedia reporter at Bhekisisa.