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Forgotten San community still scrounging for food

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AS President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration rejoices after Zimbabwe recorded a bumper harvest, the same joy is not shared by the San people in Tsholotsho, Matabeleland North province, who are facing starvation following a poor harvest in the 2020/21 farming season.

LIZWE SEBATHA

The country expects to harvest an estimated 2.8 million tonnes, a number harvest against annual national consumption of 1.8 million tonnes, thanks to the good rains that characterised the 2020/21 agricultural season.

“In Zimbabwe between 2020 and 2021, crop yield is expected to increase by 199% for maize harvest, 128% for the harvest of traditional grains (and) 94% for cotton harvest,” Mnangagwa was quoted as saying during a high-level dialogue on feeding Africa held under the theme “Leadership to scale unsuccessful innovations.”

In May, Reserve Bank governor John Mangudya announced that Zimbabwe has, as a result, suspended maize imports, saving the country an import bill of over US$300 million.

However, the San community in Tsholotsho do not share in the joy as they continue begging for food handouts.

There are an estimated 3000 San community members in Tsholotsho, according to a recent “census” by the Tsoro-o-Tso San Development Trust, an independent organisation that advocates the development of the Tjwa/San people in Zimbabwe.

“The food situation is very, very critical and dire,” Davy Ndlovu, the coordinator of the Tsoro-o-

Tso San Development Trust, told The NewsHawks in an interview on Wednesday.

“We had so much rain, but the same rains destroyed the little that the community had planted owing mainly to poor farming techniques. Those that did harvest did not get much. The community faces hunger and we plead with state and non-governmental organisations to chip in with food assistance.”

Begging for food assistance is nothing new for the San, who survived on hunting and gathering in the area where Hwange National Park is located before they were translocated in the 1920s.

Poverty is rife among the San who survive mostly on casual work in neighbouring Ndebele and Kalanga communities.

The San community suffers deep structural and systematic marginalisation, government acknowledged recently as it announced a number of intervention measures to assist them. This followed a report presented in cabinet after a visit to the San community by a government delegation led by Local Government minister July Moyo.

“The delegation noted that the San people lack birth certificates and identity documents, encounter high teenage pregnancies as well as very low school completion rates at primary and secondary school, and suffer food insecurity mainly due to human-wildlife conflict and failure to practise modern agriculture,”

Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said in a post-cabinet briefing recently.

Government intervention measures include the building of clinics, primary and secondary schools, waiving entry requirements for learners, facilitating the issuance of birth and identity documents and appointing headmen and chiefs to “enhance the participation of the San/Tjwao in governance.”

A study published in July 2021 titled “Marginal Communities and Livelihoods: San Communities Failed Transition to a Modern Economy in Tsholotsho, Zimbabwe,” by Thulani Dube, Cornelius Ncube, Philani Moyo, Keith Phiri and Nhlanhla Moyo cites a combination of toxic factors as being behind the failure of the San community to climb up the social ladder and transition from a hunter- gather economy to an agro-based one.

“Wild animals were widely cited as a major factor undermining the success of San community livelihood portfolios. Participants in the focus group discussions explained that animals were responsible for destroying their crops and thus leading to perpetual insecurity.

“It was indicated that after many years of interfacing with human beings, these animals were no longer afraid of traditional methods used to scare them,” the study reads in part.

The study found out that some of the drivers of the failed San communities’ transition include poor farming techniques, marginalisation, systematic structural oppression by the Ndebele and Kalanga ethnic groups, poor market linkages and the natural environmental challenges such as climate change.

“There were several major drawbacks to the agricultural practice of the San people. Firstly, they were faced with the challenge of draught power. Consequently, they had small fields which they ploughed manually due to lack of draught power,” the study adds.

“Because of high poverty levels in the San communities, food aid perennially constituted an important livelihood pathway in these communities. Keeping seeds for the next farming season was found to be generally a challenge amongst mostly poor households in the study areas. It was noted that due to shortage of food, most villagers ate their seeds, especially groundnuts, before the planting season.”

The researchers also uncovered that the neighbouring Ndebele and Kalanga communities often cheated and exploited San after hiring them for casual jobs such as herding cattle.

“Most of these casual jobs were remunerated in food and money. A common problem raised by most San respondents about this livelihood pathway was that they felt exploited by the Ndebele and Kalanga employers. San respondents pointed out that they were often underpaid for their services.”

However, with the announced government intervention measures, the San community are hopeful that their troubled fortunes will change, the Tsoro-o-Tso San Development Trust says.

“The entire San community is hopeful because it is the first time in years that government ministers took time to visit the area to document problems we face, unlike in the past when they would rely on our reports,” Ndlovu says.

 

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