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Real life stories: Climate change in Zimbabwe

  • 24 November 2021
Simbarashe Ndoro, a young person from Zimbabwe, has interviewed their 60-year-old teacher, Eunice Mazhude, to explore the effects of climate change.

Jesuit Missions is supporting work in Zimbabwe. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, we have supported vulnerable families with food assistance and schools with educational resources. There is a rise in poverty in the country due to the pandemic causing unemployment. Climate change has also exacerbated economic issues for many families.

Over the last few decades, the world has enjoyed a visible boom in technological advantages. It seems that climate change has progressed at a similar rate. Just as people can observe the change in mobile phones during their lifetime, they can also see the effects of climate change.

Mrs Eunice Mazhude a teacher at Visitation Makumbi High School explored the effects of climate change as she observed it in her 60 years of living in the Domboshava rural region in Zimbabwe.

“Large heads of cattle were the kind of wealth that we had as black people in Zimbabwe,” says Mrs Mazhude. Her family had a herd of 50 cattle when she grow up and she expresses that many of them died due to climate change.

“Here in the rural areas we relied on a central dipping area to immunise our cattle and this ended when the spot where people used to take their cattle to be dipped was unusable because the adjacent river had dried up.” This resulted in a lot of cattle perishing to point that some people ended up losing all their cattle. This is because most rural families could not afford to buy medication for cattle at the expense of people.

Mrs Mazhude shared that cattle had many uses in a family. They were used for food like meat and dairy products. She says, “We drank fresh milk every day and could afford to make sour milk, nowadays people drink artificial powder milk which is a reason why people in the olden days were fit because they ate the food they produced themselves without additives.”

The cattle were also used for tilling and manure for the land. She says, “Zero tillage is not possible on large tracts of farming land, as a result, people who still have cattle charge high prices to those who want to borrow them for tilling.”

Mrs Mazhude had some observations she also made regarding the effects of climate change on farming. “We used to know that each season was accompanied by a particular type of rain May Mavhurachando (starting of winter), August Gukurahundi, October Bumarutsva.”

She explained that some of this rainfall has disappeared and only the rainy season that used to start in October to March remains even though sometimes it comes as late as December. The result is that plants are more difficult to grow. “Domboshava was a farming area known for market gardening and horticulture throughout the year this has changed as some people stop production as early as June,” says the 60-year-old.

She says the prevalence of drought in the area has left only those with access to perennial rivers and wetlands engaging in year-round farming as most gardens would be dry. Mrs Mazhude also says “Drinking water for people and animals was not a problem.” The villagers surrounding Visitation Makumbi High School sometimes come to the school seeking water.

These changes have created poverty within the region. Mrs Mazhude says, “People have started selling farming land as residential land to make money which used to be made by farming.” She adds that this area is attractive as it’s 46 kilometres from Harare and people can commute. However, she believes that this method is not sustainable and is the last resort to flee from poverty.

She also notes that climate change has resulted in other social and ecological problems. “Currently young people are engaging in illegal gold panning and moulding bricks; with some even choosing to leave school to engage in these activities.” She says these illegal jobs are a problem as the large pits are often left open after the panning and she is aware of at least one child who drowned in those pits.

“Animals used to stay in mountains and we could conduct our farming safely, however monkeys and baboons now live among us,” she says. The animals are coming in search of food, as their food source has died, this has been exacerbated by people building closer to the mountains. “People have started living in wetlands and sometimes their traditional huts (built without cement) have had their huts destroyed by floods.” The reason people have moved to these wetlands is because of the availability of fertile land.

The mother of four and grandmother of four expressed her concern for the younger generation. She says, “The youth are going to school but are not learning about traditional agriculture or looking after livestock because it is no longer practised.” She says that there is a need to come up with something sustainable for the youth to do. She added that there is a need to provide young people with life skills as education does not translate to jobs as it did during the time she grew up.

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