Hunger stalks ordinary folk

HARARE - Sitting under a tree and wearing a worn out Zanu PF cap, George Sibanda tries to ignore the rumblings of his stomach — his eyes are sunken and he says his whole family is hungry and dreadful of the future.

Sibanda, a self-styled traditional healer, has 24 mouths to feed, including his own, and the drought that is ravaging the country brought by the El-Nino weather phenomenon, has made his usually sorry situation even direr.

“When did we last eat by the way?  Sibanda turned to ask his wife and the response was an exasperated “yesterday”.

It is around 2pm and the heat is searing in Umzingwane, one of the most arid areas in Zimbabwe.

“Oh yes it was yesterday,” he tells journalists who had visited his home in Matabeleland South Province recently.

In his rural community, he is known as the healer, but he hasn’t been able to “heal” his family from suffering from hunger.

Two of his grandchildren suffer from malnutrition.

When the 59-year-old spoke about how he watched helplessly his grandchildren Ntutuko and Gugulethu get thinner and thinner by the day, you could see the grief written on his wizened face.

Luckily, the two have since been put on the Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) programme and are slowly recovering.

Therapitc food is referred to as plumpy nut or idhovi (peanut butter) as it looks and almost tastes like peanut butter

“Hindlala (It’s hunger),” his wife Gladys Mlhanga says after being asked what had caused the children to grow so thin.

“We have nothing to eat, and the children are suffering,” she says while another grandchild sits on her lap.

“If it was not for the plumpy nut, I do not know what could have happened.”

While President Robert Mugabe and his props desperately try to dismiss the hunger and poverty pummelling the ordinary people.

Tucked away from regular media scrutiny, villagers in rural areas are seemingly the worst hit by the effects of drought, and a broke central government.

This family is part of the 2,8 million people in Zimbabwe in need of food assistance according to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee ( ZimVac).

Agriculture experts from the district have also written off 70 percent of the crop, and this means the number of households needing food aid will increase.

“Usually, we produced about six bags of grain but this year we have nothing at all.  So we had been depending on food aid but that has stopped coming for now. So we just look at each other.

“There is irrigation not far from here, but it only benefits a few people, and we are not part of the beneficiaries. We don’t have any cattle but we do have three goats now after we sold the other two.

“Previously, we would get some money from clients, who wanted my services, but most people are now turning to the church and I only get a few. We are struggling.”

The Sibanda family is not the only family that is wallowing in poverty.

Some 50km way, Rose Dhiwa  is also counting her loses.

She said she had to watch her son’s health deteriorate up to a point she could not bear it anymore and walked more than seven kilometres to the nearest hospital with her sick baby — and the child was ill because of hunger.

One-year-old Ntando Dube who has so far recovered from malnutrition was not getting nutritious food.

“In the morning, I usually just prepare porridge with no sugar or anything else, and then in the afternoon I cook sadza and vegetables without cooking oil or even salt. And at night we skip the meal.

“My husband and I usually just have the afternoon meal so we can be able to feed our three children.”

“We do piece jobs sometimes but it seems people no longer have money to spend and I had an operation so even working is hard for me.

“We have no wealth here, no cows or goats just the two chickens you see over there. The older girl who is 23 migrated to South Africa five years ago and has not returned or sent anything. This year has been the worst.”

She constantly fears that without a healthy diet, her son will relapse anytime soon.

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