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Food Crisis Deepens

Opposition claims regime only selling scarce supplies of maize to people who can produce ZANU PF membership cards.
By Elias Mugwade

Zimbabwe has nearly run out of maize, the country’s staple food, and is now selling low quality grain normally reserved for animal feed in rural areas, the country’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, has newly alleged.

The MDC accusation follows reports by international agencies that nearly five million of Zimbabwe’s 11.5 million people will need food aid in order to survive in the coming months. The country’s harvest has failed as a result of a combination of chaotic land reform and drought.

Renson Gasela, the opposition’s party’s agriculture spokesman, told journalists in Harare on March 18 that the government is selling for human consumption D-grade maize meant for stock feed because the 15, 000 tonnes of maize it has found credit to import each month is totally inadequate to meet the country’s needs.

Zimbabwe’s maize consumption in normal times is about 150,000 tonnes. With the autumn [March-May] harvest having largely failed, the country needs to find at least 1.5 million tonnes between now and March next year.

“The country has now virtually run out of maize,” said Gasala. “There will be no food after the elections [on March 31]. If the voters make a mistake and vote ZANU PF into power, there will be starvation of major proportions in the country.

“Half of the maize being sold is not usable. It is bad maize. It is rotten D-grade maize. It is stock-feed maize that they are selling.”

Gasela dismissed claims made by President Robert Mugabe a day earlier at a rally in Bikita in Masvingo province where he said the government would ensure that no one starved, in a desperate ploy to woo voters.

“Government will not let anyone starve. We have put aside some money for grain, which we will be importing from other countries that have the commodity, if the need arises,” said Mugabe.

Gasela said the government, without international donor support, which has been gradually withdrawn, did not have the capability to import adequate maize to feed the people. “In his infamous Sky News interview in May last year, President Mugabe said, ‘Why foist food on us, do you want us to choke?’ Less than a year later, he is now desperately trying to assure the people that no one will starve,” he went on.

“People are starving in the following provinces: Manicaland, Masvingo, Midlands, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South. At MDC rallies, which are always attended by police details, thousands of people are complaining about starvation. They are starving because of the denial and refusal of food aid.”

Gasela repeated the allegation of many journalists that Mugabe’s ZANU PF government is now using food to buy votes, as scarce maize was only being sold to people who could produce ZANU PF membership cards.

He cited an example in Mberengwa East in Midlands province where names of MDC supporters who attended a rally addressed by the party leader Morgan Tsvangirai were removed from the list of people permitted to buy maize from the government-controlled Grain Marketing Board.

“We have evidence of rampant politicisation of food by the regime,” Gasela alleged. “We know how the regime successfully stopped all food aid so that they are the only ones with food during the elections”. He said village chiefs and headmen were compiling lists of ZANU PF and MDC supporters with the aim of ensuring that only non-ruling party supporters got access to the scarce maize.

Asked what his party offered the people if it wins the election, he said it has maintained lines of communication with the international donor community and these would be ready to step in as soon as they are invited.

Tsvangirai, campaigning in the west of the country, told a rally, “We are against Mugabe because he has brought hunger and famine to the people of Zimbabwe. Hunger is killing people in the countryside, but Mugabe has been saying he does not want people to be fed by the international community. Once the MDC is in power, the [foreign] non-government organisations will come back and operate normally again.”

Elias Mugwade is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.

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