IN Zimbabwe, much like the rest of Africa, cattle are a symbol and store of wealth and the bigger the herd, the more one is considered rich.
Losing a cow to disease, rustling or any other way which does not bring profit to the owner, is considered a misfortune.
A Mhangura farmer has thus been left counting loses after losing not one, not two but 19 of his cattle under very unusual circumstances.
“I have been robbed of all my hard work and savings,” said Mr Kindross Museka, who lost the cattle to cyanide poisoning last Saturday.
His neighbour, Mr Nigel Chakanyuka, lost four cows.
The two farmers’ cattle drank water from a cyanide-contaminated stream in Mhangura’s Ward 10.
Speaking to The Herald yesterday, Mr Museka said he had been investing in livestock as a way of securing his future.
“As a black and African farmer, one finds pride in the size of his cattle herd. It is unfortunate that all my hard work and savings have been wiped in just one day and all because of someone’s negligence,” he said adding some of the cows had been purchased last year.
Mr Museka said the cattle had been the source of income for his family’s day-to-day living.
“Occasionally, I would sell some of the cows to pay school fees for my children. The sales also bankrolled by farming activities,” he added.
While Mr Chakanyuka’s loss seemed to be on a smaller scale at face value, the reality is he lost his entire herd.
He said he had been robbed of the draught power he had relied on for three seasons.
“I have been using my cattle for all the ploughing activities. The death of my cattle due to poisoning means that I have been crippled.
“This is all I had as a peasant farmer. I don’t know where I am going to start from,” he said.
Ward 10 councillor, Cde Lucky Machawire said it was worrisome that the farmers had to lose the cattle in such a manner.
“We have hard working farmers here who strive to fend for their families and it is painful when we see things like this. We suspect that it is illegal miners who are responsible for the contamination of streams which are the main sources of drinking water for livestock and people around here,” he said.
The farmers said they suspected that the activities of two nearby mines could have contributed to the contamination of the stream and vowed to seek compensation.
Both the mines could not be contacted for comment on their alleged role in the contamination of Endeavour River with cyanide.
Writing on its X (formerly Twitter handle) on Tuesday, police said all the beasts died on the spot.
“Police in Mhangura are investigating circumstances surrounding the death of 23 cattle due to suspected cyanide poisoning which occurred on 13 January 2024 at Rixton Village 4.
“The cattle died on the spot after drinking water from a stream near a gold ore-leaching plant.”
Environmental Management Agency (EMA) provincial head, Mr Rambwayi Mapako said they had since issued an order to the mines and other illegal miners operating in the area to stop operations until they regularised their activities to comply with safety regulations.
EMA, police the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development and other relevant Government departments, conducted a joint operation to thoroughly investigate the incident and establish the cause of the deaths.
“We have since taken samples of the water to laboratories to ascertain the degree of the cyanide pollution but the initial tests showed that there were traces of the dangerous chemical.
“As for the miners around the area, we noticed that some were operating illegally while others had expired Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) licenses. We have since fined them and stopped operations until the miners regularise their operations,” Mr Mapako said.
To protect the livestock and people from the lethal chemical, EMA has also neutralised the stream using fera-sulphate.
“We have since administered 75 kilogrammes of fera-sulphate to neutralise the stream as a precautionary measure,” he added.
As EMA and other responsible authorities work to ascertain the exact cause of the cattle’s deaths, the two aggrieved farmers hope they get compensation from the accused firms.