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Political abuse of food ahead of parliamentary elections
His Grace, The Most Reverend Archbishop Pius Ncube, Archbishop of Bulawayo
March 26, 2005

With only days to go to the Parliamentary elections, food is being used as a political weapon in parts of rural Matabeleland. Our region of Zimbabwe has had almost no rain since January, and rural households are facing close to 100% crop failure. Families that were being sustained by World Food Programme donor food during 2004 no longer have this lifeline. Very few stores, whether in town centres or elsewhere, have mealie meal for sale, and in any case the commercial cost of mealie meal is unaffordable for many of the hundreds of thousands of rural Zimbabweans who live in our drought-stricken regions.

Since the World Food Programme was requested by our government to cease its feeding, the only source of mealie meal in many rural communities has become that sold by the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), a government parastatal. This means that government effectively controls where in the country maize is available – and to whom.

It is therefore of deep concern that evidence has been brought to my attention that in some places, GMB maize is being sold on party political lines. I have spoken to villagers from Insiza District in Matabeleland South, who report that GMB maize is being systematically denied to those perceived to be supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The following are a few examples of the political abuse of food:

  • Eight villagers recounted that on 19 March 2005, GMB maize was finally delivered in their ward of Insiza. They had paid Z$ 37,000 in January in advance for 50kg bags of maize. But when they arrived with other villages to receive their maize, their names were among those on a long list read out of supposed MDC supporters. These people were publicly humiliated and sent away in disgrace by the local ZANU PF chairperson, who was sitting on top of the bags of maize. They were given their money back and were told they would never receive GMB maize, because it was only for ZANU PF.
  • An eighty-three year old woman who looks after five orphans recounted that because she supports the MDC she is on the list of those who has been denied the right to buy food from GMB, and has been told by her local headman that unless she converts to ZANU PF she will die of starvation. Her children have almost nothing to eat and cry from hunger.
  • A young man who used to be part of ZANU PF youth structures, but who is now not strongly politically affiliated, recounted how he went for training as a local observer for the elections last week – around 15 March 2005. When he returned, he was accused of being MDC as a result of training as an election observer, and he too is now being denied the right to buy food from GMB.

This brave and desperate group of villagers believes that in their ward of Insiza alone, there are 188 families that are on the MDC list and cannot buy GMB maize. This represents a sizeable proportion of those resident in this ward.

It is reported that similar food abuse is occurring in other wards of Insiza.

Furthermore, we have received reports from some other parts of Matabeleland, of widespread threats that if people vote MDC then their area will never see GMB food again.

  • One of our staff was at a rally in Gwanda this week, and heard villagers standing one after another to recount that they had been threatened with being forcibly disappeared, and had been threatened with starvation, if they attended any MDC rally. They stated that many more people would have been at that rally if it was not for such threats.
  • Informants returning from Tsholotsho and Binga have reported similar threats being uttered, and that food had become a politicised commodity.

That people are actually having food withheld, or are being threatened with this outcome if any party other than ZANU PF should win the election at the local levels, is a serious crime. The right to food is the most primary right of all human beings. Without food, people die. There is great hunger in Zimbabwe right now. It is clear that while this government may not wish people to starve to death, certain elements within government are happy to have those who do not support ZANU PF to suffer from hunger, anxiety, insecurity and depression. How can people thus afraid of starvation be free to vote for the party of their choice?

It is an evil form of coercion to chase men and women away from food selling points for political reasons. Must parents in some parts of Zimbabwe now choose between belonging to the party of their choice and then having to listen to their children crying from hunger, or to join the political party that is prepared to risk the health of the nation’s children for political gain? What greater violence against the family unit can there be than to make parents choose between political freedom, and the well being of their children?

It is the role of the Church to speak on behalf of those who voices are not being heard, and to amplify the brave voices of those prepared to speak out on behalf of their communities. In some parts of Zimbabwe, people are being deliberately denied access to food because they do not support ZANU PF. This must stop.

The legitimacy of this election must be once more called into question ahead of voting day. With almost total crop failure looming in our region, to cynically use hunger as a weapon is to stab at the very heart of democracy.

Archbishop of Bulawayo

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