Drought evokes memories of 2008 strife for rural folk

The weight of responsibility pressed on him, a burden heavier than the sacks of Umkhuna (Mobola plum) he used to carry on his head.

SITTING on a one-legged wheelbarrow, Qiniso Khoza looks at the skeletal frame of his late grandfather’s bicycle casting an elongated shadow across the dusty path.

Hunger gnawed at his bowels, a familiar emptiness that echoed a 2008 childhood he had rather erased from his mind.

Khoza recalled the 2008 hunger at his home in Lower Gwelo’s Mxotshwa village, 35 kilometres away from the city of Gweru.

Memories, sharp and unwelcome, flickered in Khoza’s mind.

He was 14 at the time, a young boy who loved his grandfather’s donkeys.

What he knew by then, was to demand his share of whatever Gogo (Ndebele and Shona for grandmother) had prepared while he was away herding the donkeys with other boys of his age.

Khoza recalled the evenings where they bunched around a crackling fire, sharing stories under a shelter of stars with his grandparents.

Their words painted a picture of resilience, a reminder that even in the darkest of nights, a flicker of hope can brighten the path forward.

Sadly, his grandmother is the only remaining link to that rowdy past.

A woman whose resilience mirrored the ancient baobab tree in their family, had somehow managed to keep them surviving in those difficult times.

Between 2007 and 2008, hunger was not a whisper, it was a roar.

Meandering queues for mealie-meal at Insukamini, Makepesi, Mission and St Faith shopping centres gripped Lower Gwelo.

The lucky ones returned home with a paltry portion of mealie–meal or anything sold to fill their bellies.

He remembered the bags popularly known as Tshangani bags, which his mother used to bring with groceries from Botswana.

The economic turmoil, a relentless undercurrent for years, had breached the dam, leaving behind a parched landscape of empty shelves and exorbitant prices.

Khoza is a man now, 30 years old, with a wife, Senzeni, and a young daughter, Sindiso aged four.

The weight of responsibility pressed on him, a burden heavier than the sacks of Umkhuna (Mobola plum) he used to carry on his head.

Umkhuna became the staple food in parts of Lower Gwelo communities during the 2008 hunger crisis.

“I had hoped that we would have a better harvest this year, but it’s a disaster,” he said, pointing at his wilted crops.

“I can’t stand the 2008 situation again, this time we won’t survive.

“I remember in 2008, we were using bearer cheques, which were believed to be on demand but we ended up walking on top of those notes.

“The situation was bad, we survived on Umkhuna, the fruit has a bad smell.

“My grandmother made porridge, and maheu from that fruit.”

At the time, hyper-inflation was running riot, battering the local currency to worthlessness while shops shelves were also empty as the economy sank to its knees.

Khoza narrated the days when he would wake up very early to pick up wild fruits, which were also a favorite of their domestic animals

“We would wake up every day and travel about 6km to pick the fruit,” he said.

“Donkeys love to eat Umkhuna, so we would wake up early to pick the fresh fruits under the trees before they were all eaten by the donkeys.

“Now the current situation reminds me of 2008, we are in the middle of an El Nino induced drought then we wake up with news that the government has introduced a new currency.

“We are just confused, is this more than the 2008 situation or better days are coming.”

President Emmerson Mnangagwa in March declared the drought a national disaster as he appealed for more than US$2 billion in aid to feed millions in dire hunger situations.

According to USAid's Famine Early Warning Systems Network, about 20 million people would require food relief in southern Africa in the first few months of 2024.

With the 2024 poor harvest, at least four million Zimbabweans will not be able to feed themselves throughout the next harvest.

Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister July Moyo told Sunday Southern Eye that about six million people in rural areas are estimated to be in need of food assistance during the period of El Nino-induced drought.

“Approximately six million people in the rural areas are estimated to be food insecure and need to be reached with assistance during the El Nino period,” Moyo said.

“The   Zimbabwe Livelihoods Assessment Committee (ZimLAC) study, which is underway, will further reveal the projected number of food insecure population in the country.

“Furthermore, the ZimLAC 2024 for urban areas estimated approximately 1.7 million urban people to be in need of food assistance.”

Moyo said the government will distribute food through its subnational structures down to community level.

“This implies that no one or no place will be left behind,” he said.

“The country has evoked all government structures to respond to the declared national disaster caused by the El Nino, the national coordination architecture headed by the Department of Civil Protection in the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works is now in full swing.”

The government has started providing grain  to the most vulnerable citizens, but beneficiaries say the package is not enough.

Each beneficiary is receiving 7.5 kilogrammes of grain per month, but Moyo said there were plans to ensure each beneficiary receives 8.5kg from September 2024.

“In urban areas the ministry will provide cash for the purchase of food,” he added.

“Each household will receive USD 20 or equivalent to the local currency.”

Zanu PF Vungu Member of Parliament in Lower Gwelo Brown Ndlovu said donors together with the government were in the process of drilling boreholes to alleviate water shortages as water sources dry up because of the drought.

“We have identified at least 3 boreholes per ward which will be powered by solar,” Ndlovu said.

“The confirmed state of disaster in the country and communities will benefit from the government food aid schemes.

“I want to urge community members to never think of politicising the government food aid programmes.”

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