Hunger torments Masvingo

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MASVINGO — Trudging along the dirty and dusty streets of Masvingo with her three children in tow, Mavis Moyo rummages through the garbage bin outside a popular restaurant fishing for leftovers.

TATENDA CHITAGU
OWN CORRESPONDENT

Evidently hunger-stricken, her obviously malnourished children with traces of urine on their pale legs start fighting over her latest “catch” from the bin.

Ignoring her kids’ fight over leftover sadza, Moyo moves to the next bin.

“This is how I survive,” Moyo said, wiping off thick sweat cascading down her face with the back of her coarse hands.

While scavenging for food has been widely associated with vagrants and other mentally challenged individuals, Moyo, a former housemaid is very normal, but has been pushed to scour the city’s garbage bins for food because of increasing hunger exacerbated by high unemployment.

“I am not a mad woman. It is just that I do not have money to buy mealie-meal and other foodstuffs, so every lunch hour I walk into town with my kids and feed on leftovers. I sometimes compete with other people and vagrants, so I have to be early to avoid physical fights,” she said stuffing some of the leftover food into a plastic bag for “supper”.

To prove that she is not homeless, Moyo invited Southern Eye to her house in Mucheke A next to the Mucheke bus terminus.

She lives in a dingy single room partitioned by a curtain. There is no running water and she relies on neighbours or goes to a community garden borehole a couple of kilometres away.

“I have nothing to feed my children with. My husband left at the height of the economic meltdown in 2008 to look for a job in South Africa and I have never heard from him since.

“I also lost my job as a housemaid and as a Grade 6 dropout, there is no way of me getting a job that will enable me to sustain my family. I had to throw away caution to the wind and go into the streets otherwise I was going to starve together with my kids,” Moyo said.

While much of the spotlight has been placed on rural people’s hunger tales, the urban constituencies have been completely forgotten yet they are among the worst affected by poverty.

“I think government and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should also consider handing out food aid to people like us in urban areas because we face similar food shortages. People in the rural areas are better because they can till the land and can harvest their crops if the rains are good. I have no rural home to go to because both my parents are deceased so I have to survive the best way I can here in the city by eating what some people throw away,” she added.

A Mucheke community elder said food shortages seriously stalked some of the city’s 80 000 residents, especially those who live in the high-density areas.

“These days it is just the same whether someone is in town or in the rural areas. I think the government should treat all poor people the same regardless of where they live because at the end of the day, hunger does not select, it stalks anybody with nothing to eat,” the elder said.

Asked if government planned to doll foodstuffs to the urban poor, Masvingo provincial administrator Felix Chikovo said these were catered for by the Department of Social Welfare.

“I am not so sure if the help to the urban poor comes in the form of foodstuffs, but what I know is that the Department of Social welfare does have some assistance,” Chikovo said.

The Masvingo provincial social welfare officer, only identified as Dzoma, was said to be out of office when Southern Eye visited the department for a comment.

A Masvingo-based NGO, the Community for Tolerance Reconciliation and Development (Cotrad), said urban poverty and hunger were growing at an alarming rate.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has postponed the budget, a sign that all is not well and the poor will continue to bear the brunt of the economic depression.

“With unemployment spiralling and the economy tailspinning, a third of the urban population in the whole of Masvingo province lives on less than a dollar a day,” Cotrad spokesperson Zivanai Muzorodzi, said.

“Some survive on one meal a day and the rise in urban hunger and poverty is worrisome.”

Muzorodzi said this had seen a rise in destitution, prostitution, pickpocketing, armed robberies and house break-ins. All these are prompted by politics of the stomach as you know that a hungry person can do anything to save their soul. The urban poor are specific publics which should not be ignored,” he said.

According to government statistics, about 400 000 people are in dire need of urgent food relief in Masvingo province.