MCC partners report political violence in Zimbabwe, food aid on hold

MCC and Mennonite World Conference call for prayer, fasting for the people of Zimbabwe.

By Tim Shenk

June 25, 2008, AKRON, Pa. - A Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) project to feed 2,700 students at high schools in rural Zimbabwe is on hold as MCC partner organizations report political violence throughout the country.

The Zimbabwean government has ordered aid organizations to cease operations in advance of a presidential run-off election scheduled for June 27. This week, tensions heightened amid reports of attacks on opposition supporters by pro-government forces and the announcement by opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai that he would withdraw from the election.

MCC is joining Mennonite World Conference (MWC) in calling on people to pray and fast for the people of Zimbabwe on June 26 and 27. The Brethren in Christ Church is the largest MWC-member denomination in southern Africa, with about 35,000 members. MCC works with the Brethren in Christ Church in projects related to AIDS, education, relief, health care and peace-building.

Due to political tensions, another MCC partner organization has been unable to import a food shipment that MCC and the Brethren in Christ Church planned to start distributing in May. The shipment of 71 metric tons of wheat and soy blend, provided in partnership with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, was intended to alleviate hunger among students at 10 high schools in the Matobo district of Matebeleland South province.

Bruce Campbell-Janz, MCC Africa co-director, said that the government's orders to stop aid organizations are part of a political crackdown against opposition supporters.

"Anyone who's involved in bringing aid in is seen as an outside agent," Campbell-Janz said. "The government can still distribute food, and they're using it on a patronage basis, in essence, to buy votes."

MCC provided financial support to a partner organization, Habakkuk Trust, to train and organize 145 election observers for the presidential run-off. As of June 23, Habakkuk Trust reported that the government had not accredited the observers.

Habakkuk Trust reported that supporters of the ruling party, Zanu-PF, are creating roadblocks, raiding homes, and threatening to kill opposition supporters.

"They go door by door, in the middle of the night, forcing people to vote for Zanu-PF in the Friday presidential elections," Habakkuk Trust reported in an e-mail. "The people are also forced to wear Zanu-PF t-shirts and they are being bused to rallies. They are being threatened that if they do not attend the rallies, their lives are at stake."

Tim Shenk is a writer for Mennonite Central Committee.