SIBUSISIWE Dube from Nyamandlovu in Matabeleland North becomes animated when she talks about the effects of the El Niño-induced drought ravaging the usually food sufficient area near Bulawayo.
NQOBANI NDLOVU/MTHANDAZO NYONI
Dube, from Ward 6, believes she is not only a victim of the devastating weather phenomenon, but the country’s crooked politics as well.
“I have five school-going children and I am struggling to feed them. They usually go to school on empty stomachs.,” Dube said.
“Yesterday [Wednesday last week] I ended up buying them maputi (popcorn) to keep them going. It’s painful and unbearable.
“What makes matters worse is that food distribution has been heavily politicised. If you don’t belong to Zanu PF then you are in danger of starving to death.”
Dube said her children were now frequently skipping lessons due to hunger and there was nothing she could do.
She urged government to stop politicising food distribution because the effects of the latest drought to hit Zimbabwe could be deadly.
“We are all human beings and equal before God,” she said.
“Why are they discriminating against others because they support another political party?
“This must stop forthwith and I want to inform donors that their food is being politicised by Zanu PF,” Dube said.
She is not alone in her predicament as reports indicate that schoolchildren in the province are now dropping out of school in numbers because of hunger.
Although figures of the exact number of drop-outs could not be independently verified, villagers said teachers in Nyamandlovu were now conducting lessons in near-empty classrooms as students stayed away, fearing they could faint in class due to hunger.
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education late last year reportedly allowed schools in Matabeleland North to knock off early in view of the evident hunger among students.
According to the second crop assessment results carried out recently, Matabeleland North requires nearly 46 000 tonnes of grain to avoid widespread hunger-induced deaths.
A snap survey revealed that school-going children in Nyamandlovu were indeed skipping lessons due to hunger.
Some children have resorted to scavenging for food in garbage bins at shopping centres.
Nyamandlovu businessman, Stanes Wolfenden, who runs a restaurant, said children as young as seven years often came to his place to pick left-overs from garbage bins.
“They come here daily to pick left-overs. From what I gather, these children pretend as if they are picking those left-overs for dogs but in actual fact, they are taking them for themselves,” he said.
“The situation is bad here and the government and international community need to intervene.”
Zimbabwe is currently experiencing an El Niño-stimulated dry spell, characterised by extremely hot and dry weather conditions, which have left people and livestock in Matabeleland North Province in dire straits.
The national deficit of 700 000 tonnes of maize is being addressed through importation of grain from a number of countries by both the government and the private sector.
So critical has the situation become that communities are already calling for food aid, as their reserves have dried up.
Nyamandlovu Primary School development committee chairman, Edward Sibanda confirmed hunger was affecting pupils, but argued “it was not that bad”.
“For now it’s not that bad, but we are expecting that [children dropping out of school] because the situation is very bad,” Sibanda said.
However, Nganda Primary School development committee chairperson, Bernard Sibanda, said the situation needed urgent attention from government and the international community.
Sibanda appealed to the government to chip in with food hand-outs so that children could be fed at school.
Last week former Education minister David Coltart, who has been campaigning for the government to declare a national emergency to enable easier mobilisation of food aid, shared reports on Facebook from his followers that are concerned about the food situation in Nyamandlovu.
“I was out doing a rural school visit in Nyamandlovu last week, the situation is just dire. One child collapsed on the way to school, hunger. The poor headmaster is beside himself,” read one of the posts shared by Coltart.
He said a headmaster at one school revealed children were complaining of stomach pains.
“In a school that has no resources, where the fence posts to their nutrition garden were burnt in a bush fire allowing the goats to come in and eat everything, where teachers cannot afford to support their own families, what can the school do?” asked the concerned Coltart follower.
“These children are doomed to never reach their potential as their nutritional status is affecting their intellectual development. It is a cruel and tragic time in Zimbabwe.”
Coltart said it seemed to him that many in government were either ignorant of how serious the situation was, or simply did not care.
“I have received many reports that people are starving now. It is time for government and the international community to wake up. It is no good saying that food has been ordered and is on the seas (which I doubt in any case) —there is an urgent need for food to be supplied to the rural communities of Matabeleland now,” the former minister said.
“Wake up government! Wake up the international community!”
According to the National Youth Development Trust (NYDT), a youth civic organisation, government must urgently roll out a schools based feeding programme in Matabeleland North to allow students to enjoy their constitutional right to food and education.
“By virtue of students dropping out of school due to hunger, their constitutional rights to food and education have been violated,” NYDT said.
“The government of Zimbabwe has a duty to respect, protect and fulfil all her citizen’s constitutional rights.
Chief Deli Usher Mabhena said people were now surviving on food hand-outs.
“Hunger is there and people are starving while livestock is succumbing to drought. It’s bad,” he said.
“The situation is compounded by the fact that there is no water. Dams have dried up.”
Mgoma Village head, Sabatha Bigboy Mvundla said crops hadwilted and farmers in outlying areas had lost hope of salvaging anything from the 2015/2016 farming season.
“We got 50kg of grain each from GMB on Wednesday but it’s not enough. It won’t last us even a month. I have a child who is supposed to be going to Early Childhood Development [Grade Zero] but I am failing to do that because I cannot raise $32,” he said.
“The little money I am getting, I use it for our upkeep. We are now living in fear because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” he added.
Last week the government said it had secured $200 million in lines of credit to import grain, but analysts fear it will not be enough to feed the whole country as prospects of a decent harvest this year continue to diminish.