Hundreds lose their jobs
On Monday morning more than 400 sawmill workers heard they will be retrenched following the devastating fire that gutted their workplace near Karatara on Monday afternoon, 29 October. The workers were called to a meeting in Karatara where Dave Metelerkamp, the owner of Geelhoutvlei Timbers, told them it was just not viable to rebuild the sawmill that he started from scratch in the late 1980s.
Metelerkamp, who also lost his home on their farm, Ganzvlei, in the fire, declined to speak to the George Herald, but is said to be devastated by the disaster and the laying off of his workforce. Read his touching statement and appeal on page 9.
Only a few of the workers live in the nearby village and most of the employees were fetched from surrounding towns on a daily basis.
Visiting the sawmill on Tuesday, the
George Herald encountered a horrific sight. Sawdust was still burning and the only part of the once thriving sawmill that had survived the flames, were a few large sheds filled with planks. The equipment, vehicles and processing plant have been completely destroyed.
According to the Geelhoutvlei Timbers website, the private sawmill processed up to 60 000 cubic metres per annum of high quality pine logs and produced a variety of products.
A sawmill is a labour intensive operation and the Southern Cape can ill afford the loss of 400 jobs in an industry that has been struggling since government forced private plantation operators to return plantations to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Daff) and CapeNature. In spite of these challenges, Geelhoutvlei has managed to thrive amid the closure and downsizing of many other sawmills in the region.
(See the article 'Give plantations back to private growers' on page 8.)
The Ganzvlei Story
The Ganzvlei farm is renowned for its dairy products produced by Dave Metelerkamp's brother, Christopher, from milk produced by his pedigree Jersey cattle. In a 2008 book, The Ganzvlei Story by Metelerkamp's father, David Peter, who bought the farm in 1978, he praises his sons. "Thanks to Dave's great commitment and hard work, the sawmill has prospered in spite of very adverse circumstances on many occasions. He has concentrated exclusively on building up the business ‘Geelhoutvlei Timbers CC’, and has been clear that the business comes first when he married and children were born, he merely added on rooms and improvements to the caravan and shack in which he started. Now, after twenty years, he is finishing off a fine new large wooden house, using indigenous timber for the windows, doors, cupboards, stairs and so on... Over the years Dave has taken the sawmill from strength to strength. It has become more successful than I could have imagined and solved the problem of an income and pension for me, the parent of such marvellous and willing children.
“Without them my early dream of resting in green pastures by still waters would never have come to pass. Now that I am over eighty years old I am considering buying a hammock to hang between the two stinkwood trees that I planted for that purpose some years ago. Knowing the way that Lady Luck smiles on me, it would not surprise me if someone provides the hammock when Christmas comes." - Ganzvlei, April 2008
To read The Ganzvlei Story online, visit ganzvlei.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/ DP-Ganzvlei-story-text1.pdf.
Over 400 people have lost their jobs after Geelhoutvlei Timbers near Karatara was destroyed in a fire tornado on Monday 29 October. Photo: Wessel van Heerden INSET: The owner of Geelhoutvlei Timbers, Dave Metelerkamp, built up the successful sawmill from scratch.
The sawmill was a thriving enterprise before the fires came. Photo: geelhoutvlei.co.za