Zimbabwe

South African partner tries to help Zimbabwe

Christian Aid partner, the South African Council of Churches (SACC), launched Operation Hope for Zimbabwe to help thousands of homeless Zimbabweans. Its first relief convoy was due to leave a month ago, but customs delays have kept 37 tonnes of food stranded in South Africa.
Operation Hope aims to help victims of the Zimbabwean government's clean-up campaign, 'Operation Murambatsvina', which translates as 'drive out the rubbish'.

House and market stall demolitions have left 700,000 people homeless or without jobs.

Two trucks laden with maize, beans and oil donated by the South African Council of Churches (SACC) have been waiting at the border for permission to enter Zimbabwe for a month.

A third truck, carrying 6,000 blankets, crossed the border two weeks ago, but has only just been granted a duty-free permit, meaning that its cargo can now be released.

Christian Aid's Zimbabwean partner, Christian Care, has started giving out the blankets which will help thousands stay warm through the cold winter nights. But it is still waiting for the food to arrive.

The food trucks were initially delayed by Zimbabwean requests for assurances that the maize was not genetically modified.

The paperwork was submitted and the SACC were hopeful that the convoy would get underway. But more red tape is keeping the trucks stranded.

Eddie Makue, the SACC's deputy general secretary, explains, 'We're in continued negotiations with the Zimbabwe authorities, and we're hopeful that we'll make progress soon. We're disappointed with the pace things are moving. Progress is slower than we'd anticipated.'

The SACC have been sharply critical of the Zimbabwean clean-up campaign, calling it a 'human tragedy'.

As Mr Makue explains, 'The South African church leaders that visited Zimbabwe in early July were astonished by the deprivation and suffering experienced by people who were evicted during Operation Murambatsvina.

'We felt we had to do something. Our African spirituality and our Christian faith both stress our obligation to look after our neighbours.

'It's important that we transform our faith into action and bring a ray of hope to the people who've been left destitute in Zimbabwe. We're committed to doing whatever we can, however little, to show our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe that the church continues to care about them.'

Individual donors, churches and businesses in South Africa are all involved in the SACC's Operation Hope.

Its public appeal has raised well over £30,000, and many people have also donated gifts in kind.

All the food and blankets on the first relief convoy came from the churches.

South African church leaders have also twice met with President Thabo Mbeki to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe. As he blessed the SACC convoy, Archbishop of Cape Town Njongonkulu Ndungane said: 'Zimbabwe needs to resolve its own political and economic crisis, and the South African government and President Mbeki must use whatever leverage they have got to further this cause.'