Hunger ravages Matabeleland South

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BULAWAYO — As hunger stalks drought-prone Matabeleland South, a frail-looking Anna Ndlovu from the St Joseph area in Kezi says she is hardly left with any grain to feed her five grandchildren.
Ndlovu, who converted her granary into a bedroom to shelter her dependants, says she only has enough food left for a week.
“It’s pointless to keep a granary now. What would I fill it with?” she asked, keeping a watchful eye on her grandchildren scrounging for water melons, an essential source of food in these hard times.
Her children have migrated to South Africa and infrequently post a few South African rand that Ndlovu says are inadequate to keep them going.
A combination of poor harvests and failure of the rural economy to generate foreign currency in Zimbabwe’s multi-currency system, have left villagers like Ndlovu desperate and on the verge of starvation.
“I have no clue where I am going to get food for my grandchildren,” Ndlovu said.
Reports by the district administrator’s office indicate that an estimated 100 000 people urgently need food aid in this area alone.
Aid agencies, whose food handouts have averted a catastrophe since 2000 when acute food shortages took their toll, say over 2 million Zimbabweans are in need of food aid and these figures could increase dramatically.
In Matobo, cattle ranching is the backbone of the local economy, but plummeting livestock prices due to competitive bartering, has worsened the situation.
“We are at the mercy of businesspeople who are ripping us off. Businesspeople from as far as Gweru are flocking to Matobo to buy cattle,” Ndlovu said.
“Hunger is forcing us to give away our livestock. Our cattle will soon be wiped out, said Isaac Ncube, an ageing villager, who said he was getting a monthly pension of $17.
“There are very few options when someone pops up and offers you R1 300 for a beast, even when you know the actual value is R3 500. If you refuse, they will go to your neighbour who will be willing to accept the money,” Ncube said.
The remaining livestock is also under threat as pastures are dwindling dry.
To cut further losses, villagers are disposing of domestic animals at give-away prices before the livestock succumb to starvation.
Another villager, Steven Moyo, said the introduction of the multi-currency system, in view of the scarcity of the greenback and rand, had worsened the situation in rural areas.
“The new currencies are hard to come by, unlike the Zimbabwe dollar. With the Zimbabwe dollar we could at least pool funds as a group and buy a 50kg bag of maize, but that has changed,” Moyo said.
“We feel abandoned by government and someone is playing politics with our lives.
“We just read in the newspapers that 9 000 tonnes of maize would be availed to us. But we have received nothing,” Ncube said.
International and local aid agencies stopped hand-outs early this year in anticipation of the harvesting season and are concentrating only on select vulnerable groups such as orphans.
Matobo South MP Gabriel Ndebele said the food situation in his constituency was dire.
Urgent food relief is needed in Matobo, he said, adding that government had failed to act on a recommendation by the leadership of Matabeleland South province to declare the food situation a national disaster.
“We left the meeting held in March under the impression that the declaration would be announced soon, but that has not happened.
Villagers feel let down by the government,” said Ndebele.
Ndebele said politicians and government officials in Matabeleland South were still crossing their fingers, hoping donors would react more swiftly to the crisis.