A Nkayi family in Matabeleland North Province has been left distraught after losing 21 cattle valued at over US$8 500 following a breakdown in communication which resulted in a dangerous grain protectant being administered on them.
The cattle were on Sunday given a tablet each of aluminium phosphide which is used for fumigating stored grain, seeds and tobacco among others.
Despite a clear label that the contents are a dangerous poison, the cattle were made to take the tablets with deadly effect.
The cattle belong to three Mpofu family members, Mr Lindani Mpofu, who bought the pesticide; Mr Orderly Mpofu, who dosed the cattle and 97-year-old Mrs Jennet Mpofu.
The atmosphere at the family homestead at Dolahali area in Nhlekisa Village under village head Thome Ncube resembles a funeral wake with neighbours gathered to support the family.
Family spokesperson Mr Dennis Mpofu, who is based in Bulawayo and had to travel to Nkayi, said what happened was a disaster which has traumatised the family.
“What happened to our family is a disaster.
We lost 21 cattle.
One of the family members bought grain preserving pesticide and gave it to one teenage boy to take it home.
The young man forgot the message and when he got home he said the contents were for dosing cattle.
“Unfortunately, the person who administered the pills is not well educated and never read, but just administered it as they have always been dosing cattle.
They gave each cow a tablet and before long the cattle started dying.
Only one ox survived after the family was advised to make it drink opaque beer – amasese,” he said.
Mr Mpofu said beside the ox, one heifer which is expecting and two calves which were not given the deadly pills are the remaining livestock.
He said the veterinary officer in the area advised the family to bury the cattle instead of burning them.
“We dug a long deep trench and buried them on Monday.
It was unbearable watching the cattle go just like that and having to bury them was just traumatising.
“My mother was refusing to have a look at them before they were buried and we had to counsel her that it was best so that she finds closure. We accept that this was a genuine mistake due to the communication breakdown which happened,” he said.
Mr Mpofu said the family is open to any form of help they may get from well-wishers to help them restock.
Village Head Ncube said what happened was unfortunate and they were at a loss of words as a community.
“This has really hit our area hard and one would think we are mourning the death of a person because villagers are continuously coming to support the Mpofu family.
We are mourning their loss and it is sad that the person who did this did it with a good intention, without knowing it would result in this great loss .
“I pray the Government and other well-wishers donate some cattle to the family so that they restock.
Cattle are our bank and they will not be able to do farming and many other things without their livestock,” he said.
A farmer in the area, Mr Jimmy Moyo, said the death of the cattle was a call for farmers to be trained on handling and administration of various farming medicines.
“There is a critical information gap between farmers and knowledge centres.
There is need for local information centres that are easily accessible to communal small-holder farmers like Nhlekisa Information Market Centre in our area to help farmers on the ground.
Such medication must only be entrusted to responsible people and those who are able to read and understand the contexts of vaccinations as most of them are dangerous,” he said.
He encouraged farmers to work closely with veterinary officers in their areas and attend meetings which provide education on farming.
Efforts to get a comment from Matabeleland North provincial veterinary officer Dr Polex Moyo were fruitless as he was unreachable on his mobile number.