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abuse of food ahead of parliamentary elections
The Most Reverend Archbishop Pius Ncube, Archbishop of Bulawayo
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
- 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.
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
returning from Tsholotsho and Binga have reported similar threats
being uttered, and that food had become a politicised commodity.
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.
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
+ PIUS A.
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