For Langton Marasha and his family, their most difficult decision of the day is deciding when to eat their single, scant meal from their dwindling food stocks.
”We force ourselves to eat one meal a day, because we don’t have enough food,” the 56-year-old father of three said as he waited for his turn to receive a ration of maize, cooking oil, laundry soap and beans from aid agency Oxfam.
”It depends on an individual. One might want to eat in the morning while others eat in the afternoon. I prefer taking my meal towards sunset,” he said, puffing at a cigar fashioned out of old newspaper.
”We are now used to eating once a day, and we supplement that with wild fruits,” he said.
All around the school used as an aid centre in his village of Govere in the Chirumhanzu district, about 250km south-east of Harare, the stunted maize crop lies in sandy fields — a sign that similarly lean times lie ahead.
Like most of his fellow villagers, maize forms the basis of his diet. Ground into cornmeal and cooked into a thick porridge known as sadza, maize and a handful of boiled vegetable leaves are all his family eats in a typical meal.
He once had a small herd of cattle and goats, which represented all of his family’s savings, but he sold the livestock one by one to raise money to buy maize and keep hunger at bay.
With his entire herd now gone, Marasha now relies on food rations from international aid agencies to feed his family.
Marasha lost his job as a truck driver in 2002, when Zimbabwe’s economic crisis left his former employer without enough work.
Following poor harvests last year, Marasha resorted to preparing the fields for neighbours. He is paid with part of their food rations.
A decade ago, Zimbabwe produced enough maize to feed the nation and export a surplus. But after 28 years under Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe’s rule, Marasha is now among an estimated five million Zimbabweans — nearly half the population — dependent on handouts.
With inflation last officially estimated at 231-million percent in July, the real figure is believed to have reached an astronomical level many multiples more. The central bank last week unveiled a series of trillion-dollar denomination notes.
Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai are set to hold new power-sharing talks on Monday in a bid to revive a four-month-old unity accord that so far has brought no aid to the nation’s people.
Workers now demand salaries in foreign currency, but with unemployment at 80%, most Zimbabweans can only dream of keeping US dollars or rands in their pockets.
The situation has been exacerbated by an outbreak of cholera that has claimed 2Â 200 lives countrywide, and which is taking a particularly deadly toll in villages like Govere.
The United Nations says the death rate is growing in the countryside, where many people simply die in their homes.
Making matters worse, Oxfam warned last week that it would soon be forced to cut food aid due to a shortfall in donations.
Hearing the news, Marasha simply held his head in his hands.
”People’s lives are in danger because of lack of food. They are severely weakened and therefore less able to deal with cholera, which has spread across the country, or fight HIV/Aids,” Oxfam country director Peter Mutoredzanwa said.
Teenage mother Pellargia Musvuti said the food rations were only a stop-gap measure and appealed for seed and fertilisers so that she can grow her own food.
”We needed farming inputs in time to plant so we can feed our families to avert hunger this year,” Musvuti said as she waited to receive her family ration at another primary school near Govere.
Despite good rains this summer, most farming plots around Govere lie fallow with small patches of sprouting maize as the villagers failed to secure farming inputs on time.
”We are going to have another bad season as a result of lack of inputs,” lamented district administrator Langton Mupeta.
”Just now we received about 30 tonnes of seed. We don’t know if the rains will manage to get us through.” — AFP