By Gary Hlatshwayo
Gwanda, October 31, 2013 – Almost 3 000 pupils in primary and secondary schools in Matabeleland South province have dropped out of school this year mainly due to hunger as starvation in the drought prone region reaches alarming levels.
Ironically, the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) provincial depot in Gwanda is virtually empty with no maize deliveries amid revelations that Zambia which has been providing the staple food to Zimbabwe on debt is now demanding cash payment up front.
Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development deputy minister responsible for cropping Davis Marapira on Monday lamented the hunger situation in the province.
“One of the reasons we are here is because we heard that school pupils are abandoning school due to hunger and the solution lies in revitalising irrigated schemes,” said Marapira during a tour of Chelesa Irrigation Scheme in Guyu, south of Gwanda town.
Once Africa’s breadbasket, Zimbabwe has turned into a basket case importing maize for the sustenance of its populace.
Marapira conceded the country has turned into “beggars”.
The irrigation scheme is experiencing water supply problems due to intermittent power cuts and is not helping much in alleviating the hunger situation.
School children in most rural areas walk long distances to and from school and statistics from the ministry of education indicate that Gwanda district has the highest school dropouts with a total of 1 130 school children having abandoned learning since the beginning of this year.
Matobo and Beitbridge have recorded 703 and 639 school drop outs respectively and government has been urged to introduce supplementary feeding schemes in schools to alleviate starvation among school children.
Umzingwane has had just over 400 dropouts with the least affected being Mangwe district with over 60 pupils having dropped out of school.
“Although some of the pupils have dropped out of school due to economic hardships and pregnancy most of them have been affected by hunger and can no longer cope with having to walk long distances on empty stomachs” said an official with the ministry of education who spoke on condition of anonymity as the official is not allowed to entertain media enquiries.
In the past years some Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) provided food supplements to children in schools but have since stopped doing so due to political interference as they are often accused of meddling in the country’s political affairs.
Recently, the Minister of State responsible for provincial affairs in Matabeleland South province, Abedinico Ncube, warned NGOs he accused of being fond of interfering in the country’s political affairs that they risked being chucked out of the country.