DISASTER is looming in Chipinge — one of the areas hardest hit by drought in the country — with many families now resorting to one meal a day while thousands of their livestock, particularly cattle, are dying due to lack of pastures and water.
Many villagers are now selling off their cattle for a song, in some cases for as little as $40 which will buy them a few bags of maize and as a way to get rid of the dying animals.
So bad is the situation that some villagers claim they sometimes sleep on empty stomachs as they do not have money to buy mealie-meal.
Elias Ndlovu of Matika village in Chipinge South said he has been watching helplessly as his herd of cattle is depleted due to the drought.
“There is no food here. We have been in successive years of drought in this area. Livestock is dying and some people are opting to sell cattle for as little as $40 just to realise some money to buy food.” Ndlovu said.
“Most of the cattle that are sold are those that would have been starved to the point that they can’t even move.
“Those that buy such cattle have to put in extra care and buy a lot of supplements for the cattle to live.”
He added: “Imagine, if this is happening to livestock, what more to people.
“On average a bucket of maze is selling for $7,50 and very few people can raise that kind of money here.
“It’s a disaster and unless something is done urgently, we are doomed.”
Another elderly villager in Machona area, Emily Zachire said she was pinning all her hopes on her two grandchildren working in neighbouring South Africa.
“There is nothing I can do to save the situation. Sometimes we rely on relief aid and my two grandchildren who are working in South Africa send me groceries,” she said.
“The situation is so bad and given the outlook, we are not expecting to harvest anything this year.
“We have experienced droughts before, but this is too much.
“Cattle are dying and you cannot sell them to anyone,” she said.
She said the situation was much worse for child-headed families who had nowhere to get food, save for aid agencies.
According to headman Samuel Machona, local schools have recorded a sharp drop in enrolment owing to the drought.
“We assessed the situation and it is bad. Local schools have recorded a decrease in enrolment because of hunger.
“Some parents have diverted funds for school fees to buying food and this has affected Machona, Veneka and Mutimburi areas,” he said.
“As you walk around, there is a foul smell all over the village because livestock is just dying.
“People have ceased to care about that and the abattoirs that used to come and buy cattle have since closed.
“The bulk of the cattle cannot even go for dip tanks because they can’t swim through.
“The situation is bad and I hope the government is doing something to save both human life and livestock.”
A local teacher in Mabhiza area said he was not ashamed of buying cattle for a song as their chances of survival were very slim.
“There is nothing to be sorry about. Imagine buying a beast in that state,” he said.
“Most of them will die anyway and besides, the money you will use to buy supplementary feed and the time you invest in taking care on them will be too much.”
Very little rains have fallen in most parts of Chipinge since the beginning of the rainy season.
Some villagers have planted seeds for the third time this season, but because of long dry spells, the crops have wilted.
Chipinge Rural District Council deputy chairperson and ward 26 councillor Misheck Busangabanye said most villagers had lost hope of planting anything this season.
He described the situation as dire as the drought has affected both humans and animals.
“There are no pastures to talk about and there hasn’t been any serious rains this season.
“Recently, there was a programme for subsidised supplementary feeds but again, very few people could afford it,” Busangabanye said.
“The problems started in November and imagine the damage done up to now.
“We have a local headman, Manyanga, who lost almost 20 cattle. That is so bad because to us, livestock is our source of wealth.”
He added: “People planted in November but the plants could not survive the high temperatures.
“Some tried again in early December and the same happened.
“Personally, I have sowed for the third time and that will be the last. It means this year we are facing a very difficult time.”
Busangabanye said aid agencies were the only hope for the region at the moment. He said currently there was a programme to feed the elderly and pregnant women.
The councillor said they had negotiated with ethanol producer, Green Fuel for villagers to be allowed to weed out unwanted sugar cane starks from the plantations to feed cattle.
Villagers and boys of school-going age could be seen walking for up to 20km to upstream areas on the Save River with big herds of cattle to find pastures and water.
“Our parents said there is need to save the family herd, even if it means foregoing school. We move in groups and there is nothing we can do,” said one Edmore Magwa of Musapingura village on Friday morning as they drove their cattle to irrigated farms.
Some will camp there for a few days, but the issue has created conflicts with other farmers who feel the move will spread diseases among their own herds.
Already in areas around Green Fuel, a potentially explosive clash between the company and villagers is brewing as they fight to utilise the drying mighty Save River.
Green Fuel has channelled water towards its pumping machines and as a result, fish is now concentrated at one place.
This has made harvesting the fish very easy using mosquito nets, but the company feels the villagers might interfere with its operations.
A cat and mouse game has ensued, with hundreds of villagers desperate to raise money for food fighting running battles with the company’s security guards over the fish.
Villagers have vowed to fight on, claiming they should also benefit from the natural resource.
When The Standard crew arrived in the area, security guards were chasing away villagers.
The drying of the Save River has brought untold suffering in Chipinge to both villagers and farmers who used to rely on the river for irrigation and other activities.
Chipinge South MP Enock Porusingazi said the drought situation was affecting the entire low- veld region.
“There hasn’t been rains in the lowveld for quite some time. Drought has hit both livestock and people and boreholes are drying up together with Save River,” he said.
“There are no markets for cattle from this area, especially Maronga, Masimbe, Kondo and Rimbi because the quality has drastically gone down.
“The situation has also affected school-going children who are now tasked with finding pastures for cattle.
“This is normally a dry area but the situation has worsened in the past three years.”
He added: “Our appeal to the government is that they should consider declaring this area a disaster area. Something must be done urgently because people are suffering here.”
The severe drought has been blamed on the El Niño weather phenomenon that has resulted in very high temperatures and low rainfall in southern Africa.