Zimbabwe - Voting ZANU for food: Rural District Council and Insiza elections


Rural District Council and Insiza elections


August to October 2002

20th November, 2002


No copyright - may be copied freely omv@dadlnet.dk

Physicians for Human Rights, Denmark (PHR-DK) has published two previous reports on torture in Zimbabwe:

- Zimbabwe 2002. The Presidential Election: 44 days to go. Physicians for Human Rights, Denmark, 24 January 2002.

- Zimbabwe: Post Presidential Election - March to May 2002. "We'll make them run". Physicians for Human Rights, Denmark, 21 May 2002.

Photograph 1: Cover

The child on the front of this is from an MDC supporting family in Midlands that allegedly has been consistently denied access to food, including to WFP donor food, on political grounds.

On 28th October 2002, the child was diagnosed as having kwashiorkor, a condition caused by protein- vitamin- and calorie deficiency.

This opinion was reached based on the following symptoms:

- distended abdomen
- oedema of dorsum of feet and hands
- flaky, discolouring skin
- sparse hair, beginning to straighten
- apathy

For full details of this case, see this

page 26.

Note: the visible umbilical hernia is irrelevant medically speaking and is not linked to starvation.

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We are an independent group of Danish medical doctors (founded 1990) whose goal is to bring the skills of the medical profession to the protection of human rights. Members of PHR-DK have participated (in some cases as consultants to other NGOs) in fact finding missions to several countries such as Israel and The Occupied Territories, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Venezuela, Turkey, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Kuwait, Kenya, Romania, Uruguay, Lithuania, Latvia, Pakistani and Indian held Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Nepal, Croatia, Bosnia, Thailand, The Philippines, Punjab, Kosova, Jamaica, and Zimbabwe.

PHR-DK co-operates with several other human rights organisations, notably IFHHRO (International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organizations).


This has been the purpose of all our missions. Mainly done by interviews with and medical examinations of torture victims, dead or alive.

We have, from time to time, co-operated with several NGOs in- and outside the countries in which we have worked, notably Physicians for Human Rights/USA (Health Care Situation in Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation), Human Rights Watch Asia (Kashmir), PHR/UK (investigation of long-term effects of acoustic shocks used by Soviet elite soldiers OMON during uprising in Lithuania), , FAST (Families Against State Terrorism, Jamaica), CCFS, CIFA (Centre for International Forensic Assistance), several NGOs in Israel and Occupied Territories (autopsies of Palestinians who died in Shabak custody), and OSCE (Kosova).

Examples of missions:

  • Four fact finding missions to both Pakistani and Indian held Kashmir.

  • Fact finding missions to Thailand (Burmese refugees) and to Punjab. A recent case (March 2002) was an investigation in Jamaica: seven young men had been shot dead by local special police ("Crime Management Unit"). A Danish forensic specialist observed the seven autopsies in Kingston and concluded that the cause of death was multiple gun shots and the manner of death homicide.

  • July 2000: fact finding mission to Mexico where two non-violent AmerIndian environmental activists were examined while in prison. Conclusion: the two AmerIndians, Rodolfo Montiel Flores and Teodoro Cabrera Garcia, had suffered severe torture carried out by the army. They were released after the Foreign Ministry of Mexico contacted PHR/DK to have some information confirmed.

  • January and May 2002: members of PHR/DK visited Zimbabwe and documented after-effects of severe physical torture: flogging with barbed wire leaving typical, absolutely unequivocal wounds.

Secretary: Olav M. Vedel, M.D.
Volshojvej 12, DK 8240 Risskov, Denmark
TEL + 45 86 21 07 40 Cellphone + 45 26 20 07 41
E-mail: omv@dadlnet.dk

Previous reports by PHR-DK on human rights violations in Zimbabwe are available at: www.phrusa.org/healthrights/phr_denmark.html

"We would be better off with only six million people*, with our own people who support the liberation struggle. We don't want all these extra people".
Didymus Mutasa: Zanu-PF Organising Secretary,
10th August 2002

*Zimbabwe has a population of 13 million

"By December, we estimate that 6.7 million Zimbabweans will be in need of food aid, but so far we only have food for 3.9 million ...

Food is coming in but it is not coming in fast enough ... Within two months many more people will be hungry. We are looking at the possibility of major famine, major death. And yet the government is still obstructing food deliveries. I don't know why they are doing it at this point. They are hurting their own people ...

Government officials confirmed to me that they will not allow those non-governmental organisations to distribute food aid for political reasons, because the government views them as loyal to the opposition party. I said that is unacceptable. They are major international organisations with fine reputations for non-partisan activity."
Tony Hall: US representative to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, commenting on the closure of donor feeding schemes in Binga; cited in The Guardian, UK, 17 October 2002.


Summary and Conclusions

1. Introduction

2. Structure of the report and approach towards compiling material

3. Erosion of democracy

3.1 Historical background: key events August to October 2002
3.2 The Rural District Council and Insiza elections as events triggering politically motivated violence

4. Abuse of food as a political weapon

5. Results of interviews and field visits conducted to investigate allegations of political abuse of food, August to November 2002

5.1 Case examples by district
5.2 Conclusions

6. Results of examinations of individuals exposed to human rights violations in Zimbabwe, August to November 2002

6.1 Case presentations
6.2 Quantitative evaluation of clinical cases
6.3 Conclusions

7. Corroboration of findings by other organisations

8. Annexes to the report


Photo 1, front cover: Child with kwashiorkor
Photos 2, 3 and 4: Burnt homesteads, Binga
Photos 5 and 6: Case C: pellet gunshot wound and chest X-ray
Photo 7, back cover: Case L: scalp wounds inflicted with stones

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Summary and Conclusions

The overriding conclusion of Physicians for Human Rights, Denmark (PHR-DK), based on our most recent findings, is that the political abuse of food is the most serious and widespread human rights violation in Zimbabwe at this time.

Conclusions of previous reports

This report is the third report in 2002 on torture in Zimbabwe written by Physicians for Human Rights, Denmark (PHR-DK). In January and May 2002, earlier reports concluded that mutilating torture was being practised by government supporters against the political opposition, and that perpetrators operated on the assumption of total impunity.

Our May report further documented a phenomenon last seen in Zimbabwe in1984 - the political manipulation of hunger in some areas, to exclude from all routes of gaining staple food those labelled as opposition supporters.1

The January and May reports both reflected concern at the clamp down on the Zimbabwean judiciary, media and civil society and its impact on the flow of information on human rights abuses to the international community. In May we warned that in the Zimbabwean context, fewer formal reports about abuses did not indicate that fewer abuses were taking place. Rather it indicated that repressive legislation and a growing government campaign against independent voices had succeeded in decreasing the information flow.

Conclusions of current report

We document in this report that in the second half of 2002, torture and ill treatment beyond any doubt is still being practised by government supporters against their political opponents, in Zimbabwe. The fact that perpetrators continue not to care whether they torture people who can identify them, or whether their acts of torture or ill treatment leave marks that can easily be recognised as caused by torture, underlines a clear assumption on their part, of impunity.

This assumption appears well founded: no prosecutions against perpetrators have been made in any of our documented cases of torture and ill treatment. This includes to date, no prosecution linked to any case from the January or May reports.

Our current findings further reinforce our previous conclusion that there is a deliberate policy of torture and impunity by the authorities.

The current report documents that attacks on independent voices in the media, the judiciary and civil society have indeed continued, and are predicted to escalate yet further in the next few months, in the form of further repressive legislation, as well as attacks on individuals. Government officials, in the last few months, have ignored court rulings and condoned attacks on court officials who made rulings unfavourable to government. The appointment of a new Minister of Home Affairs appears to have coincided with an escalation of reported torture perpetrated by the police.

The most significant findings in this report relate to political abuse of food.

We conclude that in the last four months, manipulation of food was directly related to elections. The threat of being deliberately starved by the Government if the opposition won votes, was used to profoundly influence vulnerable rural voters in recent elections in Zimbabwe.

Abuse of government controlled "food for work" programmes and of sales from the government controlled Grain Marketing Board, were reported to us from 18 different districts and centres. This is indicative of a wide spread and deliberate strategy, in which opposition supporters are being denied the right to maize.

In all cases of problematic food distribution, those implicated in politically manipulating access to food, are Zanu-PF officials or supporters.

Zanu-PF appears to be maintaining a situation where there is too little food in the country, by controlling all sales and imports. Too little food is serving a dual purpose: it allows political control through controlling who accesses food; it facilitates the creation of a Zanu-PF dominated black market, thus enriching the Zanu-PF hierarchy.

Strategies need to be found to dramatically increase the flow of food into the country, and to free it from government control, which is equivalent to partisan Zanu-PF control.

If it is not possible to increase non-partisan food supplies into the country, it is our opinion that starvation and eventually death, will occur along party political lines in Zimbabwe.

JOHANNESBURG, 20 November 2002

1. Introduction

The intention of this report, as with the two previous PHR-DK reports this year, is to focus on patterns of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, as observed by the authors, or as reported to them by victims and key informants. A task force from Denmark visited Zimbabwe and their findings are summarised here. This report covers the time period August to October 2002.

It is apparent that torture of opposition supporters and the political manipulation of food increased significantly in the weeks before and immediately after the Rural District Council elections of 28th and 29th September.2 Abuse included destruction of houses and property both before and after the elections, as well as physical torture of individuals. Similar patterns of abuse were noted in relation to the Insiza parliamentary by-election of 26th and 27th October. This is in accordance with previous findings by ourselves and other commentators that political abuses are directly linked to elections, and that persons who are perceived to be supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) are the most likely victims of such abuses. Supporters of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) continue to be the most common perpetrators of political human rights abuses.3

Abuse of food has become an entrenched means of intimidating populations perceived as hostile to Zanu-PF. This is now more widely acknowledged than it was a few months ago, including within diplomatic and international circles.4 The Zimbabwean government at times admits, and at other times denies, that this is an official or condoned policy.5 This report documents incidents that point towards systematic control of who has the right to purchase food from the government controlled Grain Marketing Board (GMB). It further documents exclusion of perceived MDC supporters from the right to participate in government "money/food for work" schemes.

As in the May report, this report once more documents political abuse of donor food. While it must be clearly stated that by no means all, or even most, donor feeding schemes are being subjected to political manipulation, attempts by the Zimbabwean government to use donor food as a weapon to punish those supporting the opposition have become more blatant and widespread in the last two months, at the very same time that hunger has become more widespread.

This has resulted in a US Government official stating on 4th November 2002 that they would consider "very intrusive and interventionist measures to ensure food is delivered to all Zimbabweans who need it, regardless of political affiliation".6

in pdf* format


1 Food was withheld from Matabeleland in 1984, during a severe drought. At this time, Matabeleland was the stronghold of the political opposition, Zapu.

2 See current report and also: Amnesty International (AI), Zimbabwe: Political violence intensifies ahead of September local elections, 8 August 2002. AI, Zimbabwe: government authorities intensify their campaign to silence dissent, 2 September 2002. AI, Zimbabwe: orchestrated campaign targeting opposition intensifies in the run up to local elections, 11 September 2002. AI, Zimbabwe: violence mars rural district council elections, 1 October 2002. AI, Zimbabwe: Appeal to President Mbeki on African Day of Human and Peoples' Rights, 21 October 2002. ZHR NGO Forum monthly reports showed a reduction in reported political violence during June 2002, which then escalated ahead of rural elections.

3 See all refs cited in previous note, as well as current report.

4 Zimbabwe: the politics of national liberation and internal division. International Crisis Group 17 October 2002, Harare and Brussels; Food as a weapon. Dr Keith Martin, M.D., M.P. OP-ED submission to House of Commons, Canada, 31 October 2002; see also op cit PHR-DK, 21 May 2002

5 see comment by Tony Hall on page 2 of current report for apparent government acknowledgement, November 2002.

6 Mark Bellamy, Dep Sec of State for African Affairs, US State Dept, quoted in The Washington Post, 2 November 2002. See also statement on Page 2 of current report, by Tony Hall.