HARARE - Children in Mashonaland Central are fainting from hunger, the resident minister has warned First Lady Grace Mugabe, amid reports over a million countrywide risk starvation as the humanitarian crisis deteriorates at a dangerously rapid pace.
Food aid and supplies of grain imported by the government are falling far short of immediate requirements to avert starvation as Zambia’s Food Reserve Agency has suspended grain exports to Zimbabwe to build up its own reserves amid severe belt-tightening.
Acute shortages of maize, the staple food of the nation’s 13 million population, have been blamed on the El-Nino-induced drought and the government’s chaotic programme to seize thousands of white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to poor and inexperienced black settlers.
Mashonaland Central resident minister Martin Dinha told the influential Grace in an impassioned plea at Kanyemba High School in Chiweshe last Friday that it has become common to have children fainting from hunger.
“Nyaya huru iri kuno inyaya yenzara amai, muno muconstituency yatiri mune nzara, vana vatambura, mvura yaramba kunaya, asi chibage chiri kuonekera mumunda (The big issue here is hunger mum, in this constituency there is hunger, your children are suffering, the rain won’t fall, but there is little maize in the fields),” Dinha said.
Across the Mashonaland Central Province, once a commercial farming hub, farms seized from commercial farmers and given to poor blacks, lie derelict, now a wasteland, yet top Zanu PF officials blame the drought.
The man-made roots of Zimbabwe’s hunger crisis are visible in Mashonaland Central, where villagers’ lives are imploding from the combustible mixture of long dry spells, political turmoil, colonial wounds and shoddy economic policies.
In a resource-rich nation that once was self-sufficient, 3 million people are facing chronic food shortages.
This week, aid agencies confirmed Dinha’s red flag and said indeed reports of children dropping out of school and families resorting to ever more desperate coping mechanisms were increasing alarmingly, with some families said to be surviving on wild fruits, some of which are poisonous.
Dinha did not mention deaths from starvation but aid workers say levels of malnutrition were worsening and cases were increasing of hunger-related diseases such as pellagra, a chronic dietary deficiency that leads to diarrhoea and bowel infections, skin eruptions and mental disorders.
“Asi muprovince menyu amai, report yandapihwa yazadzikiswa nenhengo yeJoc (Joint Operations Command) kuseni, kuRushinga uko kwahonourable (Wonder) Mashange, vana vava kupunzika pasi nenzara vachiinda kuchikoro (We got a report confirmed by Joc that children are fainting from hunger in Rushinga),” Dinha told an attentive Grace.
He said the situation was desperate in Mbire and the edges of Kariba and other low-lying areas. Local food supplies were diminishing sharply, and school dropout rates have risen steeply since January.
Most children in rural areas are eating only one meal a day. And one in 10 have breakfast — usually left over sadza or munya — before going to school, one aid worker told the Daily News.
She warned that dropout and absenteeism rates are also increasing: children are reluctant to go to school if hungry, parents encourage children to stay home rather than travel to school on an empty stomach.
Girls especially tend to stay home as they are expected to look after their siblings while mothers are away from home, engaged in petty trading or other economic activity aimed at feeding the family.
A former Mashonaland Central farmer who now resides in the capital Harare who used to grow maize, cotton, soya beans and sorghum on a commercial scale, and exported flower seeds to the United States, Denmark and France said at the 4 300-acre farm he lost in Concession, north of Harare, tall, overgrown weeds sway in the wind. Goats are munching on the yellow grass, which used to be emerald green this time of year.
He said the “new farmers” dismantled the irrigation pipes and sprinkler system.
“It’s poetic justice that Dinha sounded that desperate,” the former white farmer told the Daily News.
“Mash Central would not be facing food shortages now if they had left the commercial sector to function as it had been before,” added the commercial farmer, who declined to be named. The disastrous drive to confiscate those farms shredded the one insurance policy the people had to get food.”
He said he used to have 100 head of cattle and 160 sheep in the grabbed farm. The cattle, sheep and flower beds are gone.
“They have totally ruined the farm, the bloody new farmers.”
The farm, which was in his family for five generations, has been carved into small unproductive plots. Businessmen and top dogs in Zanu PF own some of them. War veterans occupy the remainder.
The black farm workers, now unemployed, reminisce with nostalgia of the good old days “dzemurungu” because the war veterans have no money to pay them. Some militants have threatened them for accepting food, blankets and school fees from the former white farmer.