AS hunger slowly turns into a catastrophe in Gutu, well-off villagers have resorted to cooking and eating in the dead of night to avoid other villagers who beg for food.
The fortunate ones who still have mealie-meal have resorted to smuggling it in suitcases to their homes to avoid detection. They also take small maize quantities clandestinely to the grinding mill to prevent their worse-off neighbours from noticing so that they do not beg them for the staple food which has now became very scarce.
The practice is also said to be rampant in other parts of the drought-stricken arid district such as Maruta communal lands under Chief Zinyemba in Gutu West, as well as under Chief Munyaradzi in Gutu Central. Marwei Mudhe told Southern Eye in an interview at Maruta shopping centre that it has now become unbearable to possess the staple maize meal as neighbours will virtually camp at your homestead begging for the staple diet to feed their children and save them from starvation.
“You will automatically give in on humanitarian grounds if a fellow villager approaches you with a starving baby when you are about to serve your meal, knowing full well that this person has no source of income to buy maize meal after the crops failed in the last farming season,” Mudhe said.
“As a result, most people are now cooking bulk food late during the night when other villagers are asleep for fear of the food beggars. It is now common. Others are not from here, but move from one household to another begging for food. It is so pathetic,” she said.
A shop owner at Gadza shopping centre said she was surprised that people brought suitcases whenever they bought mealie-meal and always preferred to collect it after sunset.
“They now buy the mealie-meal and put it in a suitcase as a disguise. At first I did not understand it until I asked one of my regular customers who explained the logic behind it,” she said.
She added that even when the villagers come to the grinding mill, they bring small quantities to appear as if they too don’t have maize.
“Instead of coming with a 30kg bucket of maize to the grinding mill, they now come with small 5kg buckets. I was again surprised why one would come to the grinding meal several times instead of just making it once, and they said starving villagers would camp at their homesteads waiting for them to cook or others will beg for a little,” she said.
Although Masvingo provincial administrator Felix Chikovo could not be reached for comment, he recently told the media that food relief distribution was underway.
But villagers said there has been no food aid in their district.
This is not the first time that hunger has forced people to go to the extremes.
In February this year, Fungai Tafirenyika (37) from Chief Mabika in Bikita, was sentenced to a wholly suspended five-year jail term by magistrate Esther Muremba after she fed treated maize to her three starving children resulting in their deaths.
Masvingo is susceptible to droughts, but this year’s situation was worsened by former governor Titus Maluleke’s ban on all food and humanitarian agencies in the province accusing them of meddling in the country’s political processes.