Scenes of Umkhuna fruit (Mobola plum) resurface in Qiniso Khoza’s face as he 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, Khoza recalled the 2008 hunger in his Lower Gwelo, Mxotshwa village, 35km away from the city of Gweru.

Memories, sharp and unwelcome, flickered in Khoza’s mind. He was 14, a young boy who loved his grandfather’s donkeys. The brown male donkey which he named champion after John Cena won his first World Wrestling Entertainment Championship in 2005 was his favourite amongst the 6 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.

He recalled the evenings where they bunched around a crackling fire, sharing stories under a shelter of stars. Gogo and Khulu spoke of past hardships during the Chimurenga liberation struggle, when Khulu (Ndebele for grandfather) was arrested and detained for 8 months.  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, Gogo 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. Khoza loves Gogo with passion, the woman who took care of him soon after the demise of his mother, Veronica.

Between 2007 and 2008, hunger was not a whisper, it was a roar. Meandering queues 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 Changani 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, who looked at him with eyes too big for her 4 years.

The weight of responsibility pressed on him. A burden heavier than the sacks of Umkhuna he used to carry on his head. Umkhuna became the staple food in parts of Lower Gwelo communities.

Khoza emotionally looked at the dead maize field that was blue ticked by the rains.

“I had hoped that we would have a better harvest this year but it’s a disaster. I can’t stand the 2008 situation again, this time we won’t survive,” he said in a pessimistic sombre voice.

“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 Umkhuna fruit.

We would wake up every day and travel about 6km to pick the fruit. 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 were we survived on Umkhuna, we are in the middle of an ElNino 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,” He added.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently declared Zimbabwe’s drought a national disaster stating that the country needed more than US$2 billion in aid to feed millions in dire hunger situations.

According to the USAID’s Famine Early Warning System about 20 million people would require food relief in southern Africa in the first few months of 2024. With the 2024 poor harvest, millions in Zimbabwe and parts of the African continent will not be able to feed themselves throughout the next harvest.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare July Moyo said that about 6 million people in rural areas are estimated to be in need of food assistance during the period of ElNino induced drought.

In an interview, Moyo said:

“Approximately 6 million people in the rural areas are estimated to be food insecure and need to be reached with assistance during the El Nino period. The ZIMLAC study, which is underway, will further reveal the projected number of food insecure population in the country. Furthermore, the Zimbabwe Livelihood Assessment of 2024 for urban areas estimated approximately 1.7 million urban people to be in need of food assistance.

The government will distribute food through its subnational structures down to community level and the Chiefs will be used as an entry point. This implies that no one or no place will be left behind. 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 Ministry provides grain to cater for the vulnerable people in rural areas. Each beneficiary receives 7.5 kg of grain per month and this will increase to 8.5kg cereals in September 2024. In urban areas the Ministry will provide cash for the purchase of food. Each household will receive USD 20 or equivalent to the local currency,” Moyo added.

The World Food Programme (WPF) states that during the 2022/23 lean season, more than 3.8 million people in rural areas faced food insecurity at peak.

Newly-elected Zanu PF Member of Parliament for Vungu Constituency in Lower Gwelo Brown Ndlovu said that donors together with the government are in the process of drilling boreholes in villages. Ndlovu urged communities to focus on market gardening until the next harvest.

“We should participate in small market gardens since we have areas like ward 2, ward 3, ward 7 and ward 8 which have water. We are pushing to improve market places so that small farmers can sell their outputs. The solar powered boreholes which are being installed in all wards can be utilised to promote market gardening in Vungu constituency.

So, I urge small farmers to participate in these projects. We have identified at least 3 boreholes per ward which will be converted into solar powered boreholes. 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,” he added.


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