Reward or Retribution: the politicisation of Zimbabwe's food supply

One might have thought that following the unwelcome attention of the international media to "Operation Murambatsvina" and the publication last week of the damning report of the UN special envoy, Ms Anna Tibaijuka, on that "disastrous venture", the embattled regime of Robert Mugabe would have eased off a little on the more blatant repression of its political opposition. On the contrary, despite official denials there is abounding evidence that the forced removals (and second and third time removals) of some of the country's poorest and most vulnerable citizens are continuing.

Stories of the politicization of food also continue to pour in from around the country. Those communities who voted ZANU PF in the March 31 election are now being amply rewarded with food hand-outs; those known to have voted for the opposition are simply denied access to the scarce and tightly-controlled supplies. Reward time or retribution time, pure and simple. Here are just a few excerpts from the many reports reaching us every week.

Chiredzi South

By the beginning of July the community in Ward 15 of Chiredzi South had become so desperate for food that, through their kraal head, they made an approach to World Vision. The leaders of the community hired a truck from World Vision and drove to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) Depot at Chikombedzi to buy maize. Careful to observe all necessary protocol, they informed the Chikombedzi councillor, Kongalushi, of their intentions and obtained his approval of the purchase. The maize was duly collected from the GMB and taken to the World Vision Depot at Malapati.

It was at this point however that the desperate plan came off the wheels when Ward 15 councillor Mgwandi and "war vet" Jemitias Nsingo, became involved. These two ZANU PF heavy weights used their political influence to get the Malipati police to confiscate the maize on the pretext that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was behind the plan (as if that would make it illegal anyway). The community leaders from Ward 15 indignantly denied that there was any such partisan motive; rather, they insisted, it was simply a case of a rural community in dire straits. The police and the ZANU PF chefs however were adamant. They refused to return the confiscated maize. They paid the community leaders out the cost of the maize, but refused to reimburse the very substantial transport costs.

The sequel to the story is that, with the active collusion of the police from Malapti, councillor Mgwandi and "war vet" Jemitias Nsingo subsequently took the confiscated maize and gave it to the people of Chigalo. When challenged, their comment was "at least these people voted for ZANU PF".

Meanwhile the people of Ward 15 are still without their staple food and growing more desperate by the day.

Zaka East, Ward 26

There being clear evidence that those villagers from Ward 26 in Zaka East perceived to be MDC supporters were being excluded from the provision of maize, the victims of this discrimination sent a delegation to complain to the police at the local (Zaka) ZRP station. The police referred the delegation to the Zaka District Administrator, one Nyashadzashe Zindove and the Ward 26 councillor, Tendai Chiare. Both these officials acknowledged the discrimination and said quite plainly in front of many witnesses that the victims should not ever expect to receive maize again so long as they continued to support the MDC. On the other hand if they were to switch their political allegiance to the ruling party, food would be forthcoming very rapidly.

Those deliberately excluded from the maize supplies in this district have no idea how they will be able to feed their families who are already showing clear signs of malnourishment. Some have resorted to begging scraps of food off their well-provided relatives who are known ZANU PF supporters.

Zaka East, Benzi community

The community in this constituency recently became so desperate for food that 500 of their number clubbed together and hired transport to purchase maize meal in Bulawayo. Despite the high cost of buying in the staple food in this manner, the enterprising community leaders succeeded in getting it all the way to Zaka East ready for distribution on July 5th.

At this point however ZANU PF politics again intruded. A party supporter by the name of Miss Munagi who holds a ZANU PF post at district level, reported the purchase of maize meal to the Zaka police. The following day when a ZRP vehicle arrived in Zaka East to collect the corpse of a person who had just died, the police confiscated the food at the same time. Eye witnesses say the police loaded the bags of maize meal they had seized illegally on and around the corpse. They then drove back to the police station.

The community leaders were outraged at this form of daylight robbery practised by the so-called agents of law and order, and 33 of them set off in hot pursuit of the ZRP vehicle. Arriving at the police station in Zaka they remonstrated with the police in an unsuccessful bid to recover the stolen maize meal. To date the police have refused to release the food to the owners, and latest reports reaching us indicate that they have said they will only do so when they are provided with "proof" that the food was not donated by the MDC.

Meanwhile the people of Benzi community, especially the very young and the frail elderly, are becoming ever more distressed due to food deprivation.

The clear pattern that is emerging in this region and around the country is of rewards to the ZANU PF party faithful and retribution to those who dared to vote for the opposition. It was the MDC Shadow Minister of Justice, David Coltart MP, who recently shrewdly pointed out that, following the comprehensive rigging of the March election, only ZANU PF know conclusively which communities voted for and which against the ruling party. The manner in which the fraud was perpetrated on the Zimbabwean electorate means that ZANU PF has detailed information at its disposal concerning voting patterns across the country. The signs are that they are now putting that information to good use in a follow-up "reward or retribution" campaign. Never mind that they have just been exposed for perpetrating a horrendous crime against humanity in a brutal campaign of demolition and forced removals. Those in control of the sordid and soiled ZANU PF party seem intent on adding yet one more crime against humanity to the growing tally. What they seem to forget is that, with the direct involvement of the United Nations in the Zimbabwean crisis, the clock is now ticking away towards their own accounting for their heinous crimes before an international tribunal.

And we say "Roll on judgment day !"