HARARE - Zimbabwe police and war veterans have prevented the opposition MDC party from distributing food to hungry orphans in Nyanga rural district in the eastern Manicaland province, the party said.
MDC social welfare officer for Manicaland Llyod Mahute told ZimOnline that police and ex-combatants told the opposition party officials that they could not give food to people because they did not have permission to do so from President Robert Mugabe's government.
According to Mahute, armed police backed by war veterans, some of whom were wearing ruling ZANU PF party regalia last week stormed Ruwangwe rural business centre in Nyanga and ordered villagers who had gathered to receive food packs to disperse empty handed.
"They came in a truck and were very vicious," Mahute said. "They said we had not been given permission to distribute to the starving villagers. The villagers tried to resist but the officers were adamant and they had to disperse on empty stomachs."
The MDC had sourced the food from charitable organisations for distribution to about 500 vulnerable households in Nyanga, mostly child-headed families.
Mahute said the more than 10 tonnes of food that includes maize meal, cooking oil, salt, sugar beans and dried fish was now locked up in warehouses because it cannot be given to the hungry.
"To be honest, people here are surviving on wild fruits . . . ZANU PF is playing with lives of people," the MDC said.
Efforts to seek clarification from ZANU PF spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira whether the party had sanctioned war veterans, who are its members, to block the MDC from distributing food aid were fruitless as he could not be reached on his phone.
Police spokesman Andrew Phiri professed ignorance about the incident. "I have not heard about that particular incident but we will try to find out what really took place," he said.
The government has in the past barred the MDC from distributing food aid accusing the opposition party of seeking to use food as a political tool to bribe hungry Zimbabweans to support its efforts to topple Mugabe.
Ironically, the government is itself accused by human rights groups of denying food aid to opposition supporters.
However, there were high hopes that last month's power-sharing deal between ZANU PF and the two MDC formations would help remove tension and suspicions between the parties and pave way for the bitter rivals to work together to end hunger and economic turmoil in Zimbabwe.
Once a regional breadbasket, Zimbabwe is in the grip of severe food shortages that Mugabe blames on poor weather and Western sanctions he says have hampered importation of fertilizers, seed, and other farming inputs.
However critics blame Zimbabwe's troubles on repression and wrong polices by the veteran leader such as land reforms that displaced established white commercial farmers and replaced them with either incompetent or inadequately funded black farmers resulting in the country facing acute food shortages.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) recently urged donors to make available US$140 million in emergency food aid for Zimbabwe or nearly half of the country's 12 million people would face hunger by January when the food crisis is expected to peak.