DUBULA Dumezweni Sibanda (77) holds his head in his hands as he narrates the ordeal people in Lupane District and millions of other Zimbabweans are faced with as a result of hunger due to acute food shortages.
Sibanda, who is taking care of six grandchildren, says people in his district are now surviving on wild fruits and roots from edible local plants and trees.
Some families in the rural area go for as long as five days without eating anything solid and rely on the wild fruits for survival.
â€œThere is no food and people are surviving like animals,â€ says Sibanda. â€œThere is nothing to eat and we are competing with baboons and donkeys for fruits that are in season.â€
Sibanda said last Saturday his family had not had isitshwala (sadza), the staple maize meal, for over six days.
â€œThings are very tough for everyone in the village and very soon we will start recording casualties,â€ he says shaking his head.
Out of desperation, villagers are also bartering their livestock for maize and other grains.
Some villagers have been exchanging a single beast for just four bags of maize while a goat and a pig can be exchanged for a single bucket of maize.
â€œI exchanged a pig for a bucket of maize and it lasted only five days and now we have nothing and soon I will have to exchange a cow for four bags of maize, which will only last my family three weeks,â€ Sibanda lamented.
Many villagers without livestock to exchange are surviving on a variety of wild fruits that include umkhuna (wild cork fruit), umkhemeswana/matamba, umgwadi, inkelo and umsosobiyane.
Inkelo is a dried hard-shelled nut from the marula/umganu tree which grows wild in the drier parts of south and western Zimbabwe.
Ndengwende village in Lupane District is 160 kilometres north of Bulawayo and as one enters the village they are met with the sorry sight of children carrying sacks full of wild fruits which have become the staple food.
Villagers in Lupane said they never got grain from the Grain Marketing Board (GMB).
â€œWhenever there are maize deliveries we never get anything as we are always told the maize has been sold out even though none of the villagers would have bought it,â€ said Sibanda. â€œWe know that outsiders come here to buy the maize from GMB officials and this is scandalous because the maize is supposed to benefit us as a village.â€
Villagers also complained that the newly gazetted price of $1,4 million for a bag of 50 kilogrammes of maize was far beyond the reach of many villagers. Just two weeks ago the same bag was going for $250 000.
â€œThe cost is just too much for us,â€ a villager who requested anonymity said. â€œWe cannot afford it.â€
Sethule Ndlovu (65), Sibandaâ€™s neighbour, says her children no longer go to school because of hunger.
â€œWe are surviving on wild fruits and the children are the ones who spend the whole day looking for the fruits in the bush and they no longer go to school as they were collapsing of hunger at school,â€ Ndlovu said.
Apart from the fruits, Ndlovu said they were eating roots from umjumbula (cassava tree), which is abundant in the area. Villagers pound the root and make pap out of it. Other villagers pound the umkhomo (baobab fruit) and boil the powder to make porridge that they eat either in the morning for breakfast or in the afternoon for lunch.
Many in the village were pinning their hopes on getting food from donor agencies, but the agency operating in the region, World Vision, has not started distributing any food as they are still screening beneficiaries. Donor agencies operating in Zimbabwe screen all food aid beneficiaries in rural areas and the most vulnerable groups are the ones who get priority.
People classified under the vulnerable groups include orphans, child-headed households and those without livestock.
Cain Mpofu, the councillor for Ward 18 in the district, says there are more people in need who were screened out by World Vision.
â€œEveryone in the village is in need of food aid, but World Vision has screened out quite a lot of people as they have indicated that people with livestock will not benefit from food handouts,â€ Mpofu said. â€œEveryone is in need of food aid.â€
He said as of last Saturday, World Vision had supplied food aid to five wards out of 30 in the district.
Matabeleland North Provincial Governor Sithokozile Mathuthu refuted claims that villagers in her province were starving and said these were falsehoods being spread by malicious people.
â€œThe government is importing maize for everybody, there is nobody who is starving in the province,â€ Mathuthu said. â€œDeliveries are received almost every week and those who claim there is no grain arriving in the province are lying.â€
She said the records were there for everyone to see and said the government was importing a lot of grain into the country.
Recently, several GMB officials were arrested for allegedly diverting maize to the black market where they were selling the grain in foreign currency.
International donor agencies have said over half of Zimbabweâ€™s population would be in need of food aid by the beginning of next year.
By Loughty Dube