The Sunday News
Rutendo Nyeve in Fort Rixon
A 65-year-old Fort Rixon widow has so far lost more than 50 cattle as the dreaded theileriosis, commonly known as January disease, has ravaged through the area leaving peasants and small scale farmers wallowing in abject poverty.
The widow, who is Insiza District Ward 18 councillor, Jostinah Ndondo is not alone in the loss of her investment. Her neighbour, Mr Tadious Mhlanga (58) has so far lost 22 cattle to the tick borne disease, among a list of villagers who have lost varying numbers of cattle since the disease attacked the Matabeleland South district last month. The disease is common in the rainy season between December and March. The ward has so far recorded 262 deaths of cattle, according to the Department of Veterinary Services, although some deaths could not have been reported.
The disease is forcing farmers to sell their cattle at drastically low prices of US$100 to US$300. In good times, cattle in the area sell for between US$500 and US$800, depending on the size and breed. Since the disease outbreak, visitors are greeted by the smell of fresh meat at every homestead with dogs in the village no longer so keen on eating the carcasses.
“I am at a loss for words. I have so far lost more than 50 cattle out of the 90 cattle I had. This is a cattle area but this disease is impoverishing us at a rate we never really ever thought. I had over 160 cattle but of course I sold some and invested in a tractor and other farming implements but then losing more than 50 is too much of a blow especially when you are not getting anything out of it. The challenge is that if the disease attacks your cattle, within three days they will be dead. There is no time to run around and look at what you can do. Besides, the disease looks like it can’t be cured, while very little can be done to prevent it completely,” said Mrs Ndondo.
She said almost every homestead had meat from cattle killed by the disease and no-one was buying from another, leaving villagers sometimes just letting their cattle be eaten by vultures. She added that it was fortunate that Village Four had electricity, a development that somehow mitigates the problem as they can store some of their meat fresh.
“These three deep freezers you see are full (of meat) while we are also busy drying some,” said Mrs Ndondo.
The cattle buyers in the area could not be drawn into commenting but two trucks were parked at the local PBS Shopping Centre with one already loaded with cattle. Some of the trucks were seen going around with a police officer assisting in clearing the cattle. At Mr Mhlanga’s homestead, the news crew was greeted by a sombre atmosphere uncharacteristic of rural homesteads. Mr Mhlanga lay deep in sleep at his veranda far from his usual work routine. The tragedy that befell him has left him with minimal energy and the zeal to go about his day-to-day chores.
“Even if we talk, will we bring back to life these cattle,” said a dejected Mr Mhlanga as he resignedly invited the news crew to his empty kraal.
“I settled here in the year 2000. I came here with only six cattle and I managed to grow my herd to 46. However, since 23 December to date I have lost 22 cattle due to the January disease and that is less than a month.
The cattle have just been dying, the herd boys would go to the grazing fields and come with reports that particular cows are sick while some would have died. At times you wake up to find that five are sick in the kraal and even if you try to dose or give them any medication it yields nothing as they would eventually die. Initially we would try and bury the carcass but as the number escalated, we couldn’t manage,” said Mr Mhlanga.
So intense has been the outbreak such that even the mere flying of vultures brings some pain and boredom to villagers.
Meanwhile, Matabeleland South Provincial Veterinary Director Dr Enart Mdlongwa said the Government was working tirelessly to ensure that farmers do not continue losing more cattle to the disease.
“The Government is doing a lot to curb the diseases. We have intensified the distribution of tick-grease with farmers receiving a kilogramme annually as well as dipping chemicals. Resources have been mobilized as well to ensure the rehabilitation of dip tanks in the areas,” said Dr Mdlongwa.
Dr Mdlongwa said the disease had no negative effect on human beings hence consuming the meat from cattle slaughtered after being observed to have been attacked by the disease was not harmful. The disease is suspected to have been imported by a farmer who moved in cattle irregularly from areas where it had been reported. – @nyeve14