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Mopane worms spark much-needed economic activity in Zimbabwe

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BY FARAI SHAWN MATIASHE

Primrose Dube owes the existence of her newly built family house in Gwanda, Matabeleland South, to a caterpillar.

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The mopane worm, may be quite large as caterpillars go – it can grow up to 80mm long – but it is still a very small creature to have such a big impact on a country.

In Zimbabwe, it has sparked much-needed economic activity in a poverty-stricken nation and, offered a valuable source of protein.

But now its success as a commodity has become an environmental threat.

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The cigar-sized caterpillars, known as amacimbi  in the local isiNdebele language, are the larval form of the Gonimbrasia belina species of emperor moths.

They eat the leaves of mopane trees and in Zimbabwe are usually found in southern parts of the country such as Gwanda, which lies about 130km south-east of Bulawayo, the country’s second city.

“I started harvesting amacimbi in 2018,” Ms Dube, 54, told i.

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“In a good season, I harvest about 15 buckets, each weighing 20kg.

“We sell some in the capital Harare and to truck drivers who are en route to neighbouring South Africa.”

Gwanda’s location along the highway that connects Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa through the busy Beitbridge Border Post, makes it a prime spot for such business.

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“We have built a family house with money from harvesting and selling amacimbi,” the mother of six said.

“It is almost complete. We just have a few basics left, like floor tiles.”

Mopane worms are harvested in summer after they hatch. A good rainy season means a yield.

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People pick them from the trees, remove water from inside them and dry them in firewood ashes as a way of preserving them.

“We used to harvest from the trees, but we later discovered that when you pick those that are still hanging in the trees, there is too much labour involved in preparing them,” said Ms Dube.

“So, these days we harvest those that are down the trees and ready to go back under the soil. These will be clean and big. That is first grade.”

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Statistics on income generated by the mopane trade in Zimbabwe are hard to come by, as it is highly informalised, but industry players estimate it at $500,000 (£400,000) a year.

During harvesting season, makeshift markets are created along the highway that leads to South Africa, where people trade the worms for cash and groceries.

Buyers come to areas such as Gwanda to buy the worms, but offer low prices there, forcing some locals to travel as far as Bulawayo and Harare to sell at a higher price.

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In Gwanda, 20kg of mopane worms sell at about $20; in other parts of the country, the same 20kg fetch as much as $40.

However, environmentalists are now concerned that the trade is becoming a threat to biodiversity.

A recent rise in demand for the caterpillars has led people to come from as far away as Harare to cut down trees to harvest the caterpillars.

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This not only leaves the land barren, it also threatens the livelihoods of locals.

Climate change has also affected the availability of the worms: experts believe caterpillars are declining in the region, due to rising temperatures.

Another local woman who is in the business of harvesting and selling the larvae, Nomsa Ncube, says they have been doing so for decades without harming the environment.

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“When harvesting madora, we conserve our environment by not cutting down any trees,” she says. “We pick only those hanging on branches we can reach and wait for those hanging on tall trees to come down so we can pick them. This is done to avoid cutting down trees.”

The 43-year-old mother of three adds: “We also use only dry logs as firewood for the ashes we use to dry out the worms during the preservation process.”

It is people from other places, says Ms Ncube, who cutting down the trees and burning the forest.

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Indeed, mopane worm harvesting is a major contributor to the rate of deforestation in areas such as Gwanda, Beitbridge and Plumtree, according to Violet Makoto, from Zimbabwe’s Forestry Commission.

A canning and processing facility has been established in the border town of Beitbridge, about 195km from Gwanda.

Women are using this amenity to prepare the worms for sale in supermarkets and for export, says Joram Gumbo, minister of state for presidential affairs in charge of implementation and monitoring, who recently toured the facility.

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“Those women involved make a good living out of the project and supplement their husband’s incomes,” he told i. “They can improve their standards of living.”

Ms Makoto says she is aware of what is at stake. “Local communities should be able to utilise their natural resources to improve their lives, and mopane worm harvesting and sale is a vibrant livelihood option.

“We, however, are seeking to create awareness through training programmes on the importance of following conservation principles, especially at harvest period, so that it becomes both ecologically and economically sustainable.” – iNews

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Health ministry grapples with malaria, diarrhea, and dog bite cases

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BY NOKUTHABA DLAMINI 

According to the latest Disease Surveillance Report released by the Ministry of Health and Child Care in Zimbabwe, the country is facing a significant burden of three major health issues: malaria, common diarrhea, and dog bites.

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Malaria cases on the rise

In the week ending July 7, 2024, Zimbabwe reported 476 new malaria cases and two deaths. The majority of the cases (79) were children under the age of five. Mashonaland Central and Manicaland provinces were the hardest hit, with 205 and 118 cases, respectively. Cumulatively, the country has recorded 31,757 malaria cases and 57 deaths.

Diarrhea cases continue to soar

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The report also indicates that 6,520 common diarrhea cases and two deaths were reported in the same week. The deaths occurred in Harare Province and Mbire District in Mashonaland Central Province. Children under five accounted for 2,930 of the reported cases. Mashonaland West and Mashonaland East provinces reported the highest number of cases, with 933 and 930 cases, respectively. Cumulatively, Zimbabwe has recorded 175,551 diarrhea cases and 60 deaths.

Dog bites on the increase

Furthermore, 486 dog bite cases were reported, with no fatalities. Notably, 104 of the cases involved bites from vaccinated dogs, while 115 involved unvaccinated dogs, and 266 involved dogs of unknown status. Masvingo Province and Mashonaland East Province reported the highest number of dog bite cases, with 82 and 81 cases, respectively. Cumulatively, the country has recorded 14,093 dog bite cases.

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The Ministry of Health and Child Care urges citizens to take preventive measures to mitigate the spread of these diseases.

For malaria, this includes using insecticide-treated bed nets, wearing protective clothing, and eliminating breeding sites for mosquitoes.

To prevent diarrhea, the ministry recommends practicing good hygiene, drinking clean water, and seeking medical attention if symptoms persist.

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Regarding dog bites, the ministry advises people to avoid stray dogs, ensure their pets are vaccinated, and seek medical attention immediately if bitten.

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Zimbabwe deports Chinese in viral video assaulting mine workers

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BY KITSEPILE NYATHI

Zimbabwe this week deported two Chinese nationals accused of hanging two mine employees on a front-end loader in a case that ignited debate about alleged abuses by investors from the Asian country.

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A viral video of the two employees being tied to a bucket of the front-end loader before it was lifted with them hanging by their hands sparked outrage and spurred the authorities to take action. 

Police on Wednesday said they had identified the suspects and complainants at Makanga mine in Bindura, about 88 kilometres northeast of the capital Harare.

The brief police statement said, “investigations are in progress,” without naming the Chinese nationals, but a few hours later a government spokesperson announced on social media that they had been deported.

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“The two foreign nationals involved in this abuse depicted on a video that went viral were deported (on Wednesday),” government spokesperson Nick Mangwana posted on X.

The Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF) described the attack as “appalling, vile, inhumane and savage” as it urged the authorities to launch an investigation into the mine’s operating environment.

“The Zimbabwe Miners Federation is incensed and appalled by the vile and savage attack on Zimbabwean mine workers by a Chinese boss at Makanga Mine in Bindura,” ZMF said in a statement.

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“The shocking footage circulating shows the workers being subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment, tied up and hanged from a front-end loader bucket like animals.

“This barbaric act is a blatant violation of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, which guarantees the right to personal security and freedom from torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. 

“We will not stand idly while our members are subjected to such egregious abuse.”

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The mining industry lobby urged the authorities to investigate the matter and deal with rampant claims of abuse of local workers by Chinese bosses in the mining sector.

“ZMF vehemently condemns this despicable act and demands immediate arrest and prosecution of the Chinese bosses responsible, thorough investigation into the mine’s labour practices and swift action against any violations,” the statement said.

“We will not tolerate such blatant disregard for human rights and the rule of law. ZMF stands in solidarity with the victims and will fight tirelessly to ensure that justice is served.”

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 Last year, Zimbabwean labour unions wrote to the government demanding that it investigate Chinese employers, whom they said had become notorious for violations such as torture, beatings, gender-based violence, low wages and a host of other labour transgressions.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions – the largest labour centre in the country – accused government officials of shielding abusive Chinese employers because they were getting bribes.

A recent report by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) titled The Handbook of Zimbabwe-China Economic Relations, claimed that there was widespread abuse of local workers in Chinese-owned mines.

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“The research team learnt from the communities that Chinese mining companies rarely abide by the minimum wage as per the labour regulations and that there is overwork at the mines and no proper working timetable with workers working a 12-hour day,” said the Zela report.

“We learnt that workers were not being provided with safety clothing. 

“Community leaders, who approached some of the mining companies on this, indicated that they were told that their workers are temporary and on fixed term contract basis, thus they cannot be buying safety clothing every time a contract ends, and a new worker has come in.” 

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The Chamber of Chinese Enterprises in Zimbabwe said its members were being unfairly targeted because of transgressions of a few investors from the Asian country.

It also urged the government to apply the law without fear or favour when foreign investors violate local laws. 

Chinese companies have been investing heavily in Zimbabwe’s economic sectors since President Emmerson Mnangagwa came to power seven years ago and they now have a huge presence in the mining, construction, energy and agriculture sectors.

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According to the Zimbabwe Development Agency, 60 percent of the new foreign investors recorded last year were from China, with 369 licences that had a projected value of $3.93 billion.

Chinese companies were awarded licences in the third quarter of 2023 to mine lithium and to invest in energy and other sectors.

Source: The East African

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A survivor’s plea: Thokozani Khuphe urges government to act on cancer

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BY NOKUTHABA DLAMINI

“I had stage 4 cancer, and here I am today, standing in front of you, in good health,” says Thokozani Khupe, a Member of Parliament (MP), as she shares her personal battle with cancer to other MPs on Thursday, during a full parliamentary session.

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“My journey has made me understand that development is not rocket science, but about discovering what others have done and copying from them.”

Khupe emphasizes the importance of research and development in finding new and improved ways to enhance public health and stay ahead of the disease.

“With modernization, stage 4 cancer can be treated, and I am a living testimony,” she says. “It is imperative for the government to prioritize and invest in research and development, leading to breakthroughs in new cancer treatments.”

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Khupe highlights the need for state-of-the-art cancer equipment, particularly combined CT/Pet scans, which provide more accurate diagnoses.

“Wrong diagnosis results in wrong treatment, and I am a good example,” she shares. 

“I was initially diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but later discovered I had Lobular breast cancer. With the right diagnosis, I received the right treatment, and my tumors responded well.”

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Khupe stresses the importance of awareness programs, citing that many people are unaware of cancer and its risks.

“Awareness programs will help people know they have cancer at an early stage, making treatment easier and cheaper,” she says. “It is essential for the government to partner with organizations like the Thokozani Khupe Cancer Foundation to intensify awareness programs.”

According to the Cancer Association of Zimbabwe (CAZ), cancer is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in Zimbabwe, with over 7 500 new cases and over 2 500 deaths recorded per year.

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Khupe emphasizes that cancer treatment must be available, accessible, and affordable in Zimbabwe.

Other MPs, seconded Khuphe’s motion, acknowledging the importance of prioritizing health and making cancer treatment accessible to all.

Pupurai Togarepi praised Khupe’s positivity and encouraged others to adopt a similar mindset when faced with cancer.

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