When Thabiso Dube isn’t helping his mother at home, the scrawny 8-year-old is working alongside her, doing odd jobs in exchange for food.
He should be in class, but has virtually dropped out of school because he is always hungry, said his mother Sithandile Dube, of Lupane district in Matebeleland North province.
Thabiso only goes to school “if he has the strength,” she says – which can be as little as once a week, usually when there is enough to eat at home.
“We haven’t had enough (food) for a long time. Our crop failed. That’s why now I have to work for other people,” she said.
Over the past five years, Zimbabwe’s two Matebeleland provinces and the country’s Midlands have been suffering from a disastrous mix of erratic rainfall, flash floods and long dry spells.
In a country where 80 percent of maize – the national staple – comes from the fields of small-scale farmers, the extreme weather has severely depleted stocks of food in many homes – and schoolchildren are bearing the brunt of the shortages, experts say.
In October, Matebeleland North provincial education director Boithatelo Mguni issued a statement saying that up to 6,000 children across the province are dropping out of classes because of they are too hungry to attend.
“I ask my pupils why they did not come to school and they reply that it is because there is no food at home,” said George Sithole, a primary school teacher in Lupane. “The situation is grim.”
According to Sithole, the effect of Zimbabwe’s food shortage became clear when schools started in September.
I have 45 pupils, but these days I would be lucky to have half the class,” he said. “Cases of children fainting in class because of hunger are very common here. It is very traumatizing.”
Nurses at one Lupane clinic said they are getting an increase in the number of children losing unhealthy amounts of weight because of lack of food.