With hunger and extreme poverty lingering in the homes all over Zimbabwe, cash-strapped families in Harare have resorted to buying condemned chickens which die on their own, maybe due to excessive heat, stampedes or disease outbreaks.
Chicken farmers who breed thousands of chickens at a time, most rearing close to 30 000 chicks usually register pre-mature deaths of hundreds of birds which workers smuggle to the black market.
The condemned chickens are popularly known as “zvitunha” (Shona name for corpses) and have become trendy with poor families as a full chicken can cost anything from $1.
The meat black market thrives in places such as Hopley Farm, Epworth and other high-density suburbs such as St Mary’s, Unit D and H in Chitungwiza, Dzivaresekwa, Kambuzuma and Mufakose in Harare.
Locals teasingly refer to meat black markets as kotamai butcheries because in purchasing the meat one has to bend down (kukotama) in order to make a selection.
Fatal diseases such as H5N1 avian influenza or bird flu are caused or spread by consuming “condemned” chicken.
An investigation by the WeekendPost revealed that this practice is not allowed by law and most chicken farm owners are not aware that their workers might be smuggling these condemned birds for resale.
A leading poultry breeder in the capital loses between 300 and 1 000 chickens on a daily basis due to a number of factors such as heat stroke and although, ideally, the carcasses should be incinerated on the farm, this has been a less popular option since it is costly.
“Some of the chickens die in their pens (coops) while others die on their way to the slaughter rooms. But here we do not sell ‘dead’ chickens to the public but only to those we have contracts with such as crocodile farmers,” said an official from the poultry farms in Harare.
The department of poultry in Harare has urged people to desist from the culture of consuming “condemned” chickens.
“We do not encourage people to consume ‘condemned’ chickens but that they should be burnt and buried. Despite the fact that some chickens die owing to smothering, still it is not healthy to consume them.