|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
As aid agencies warn of the growing threat of starvation to millions of people in Zimbabwe, the BBC has uncovered evidence of political interference in the distribution of food by President Robert Mugabe's supporters.
Opposition supporters have also been prevented from buying commercial stocks of grain.
Last week, President Robert Mugabe said claims of political interference came from the opposition and were without substance.
The signs of food shortages and hunger are everywhere in Zimbabwe.
Groups of villagers wait for days at a time by the roadside for deliveries of scarce supplies of the staple food, maize.
In town and cities, long queues form outside supermarkets when stocks arrive.
The shelves are bare of basics such as sugar and salt.
Foraging for food
Many people in urban areas are reduced to eating a single meal a day, but the hardship is most severe in villages.
[The children] don't concentrate and they are weak and they are always complaining of hunger... you can't learn on an empty stomach
"From six o'clock in the morning, up to late, no food," 80-year-old Anderson Mudimba told me.
"We don't know... who will help us to have food, because we've waited and waited, and no assistance at all is coming."
I met families surviving on leaves and wild fruit.
They should be receiving food aid, but say it has been blocked by government supporters who accuse them of voting for the opposition.
Numerous interviewees said they had been refused permission to buy food from government grain depots unless they produced a ruling party membership card.
"There was a war veteran who said, 'You MDC, you are not going to buy this food, to buy maize, go back to the back of the line,'" Mr Mudimba said.
"So when you reach the number, they start taking you back again."
Hospital officials in the north-western town of Binga, where the aid effort is being held up by Mr Mugabe's followers, say nearly 30 children have died in recent weeks from malnutrition-related illness.
We have people who are starving in the communities, but the war veterans are not allowing us to distribute the food
Local charity spokesman
Many children no longer attend school as their days are spent searching for food, those that do make the journey to the schoolhouse are severely weakened by hunger.
"They don't concentrate and they are weak and they are always complaining of hunger," a schoolteacher told me.
"They also talk about ... [how] there's nothing at home to eat."
He said the children's hunger means it is impossible for them to concentrate on their work.
"[After school break] They don't faint as such, but they will be sleepy, which really shows signs of hunger," he said.
"You can't learn on an empty stomach, you can only concentrate if you have had enough."
Aid agencies complain that the government is trying to control the relief effort at every level.
One local charity official, who did not want to give me his name for fear of retribution, said that the situation was especially terrible as it need not occur.
"For us it is sad, especially when we have food around and we have people who are starving in the communities," he said.
"But the war veterans are not allowing us to distribute the food there."
Zimbabwe has suffered two poor rainy seasons in a row, but the crisis unfolding now is as much man-made as natural.
|Nine hurt as Zimbabwe police open fire on football fans|
Nine people have been seriously hurt in Zimbabwe after police opened fire to disperse rowdy fans following a football match.
The trouble started after players from the losing side, the Highlanders, surrounded the referee and accused him of not allowing enough injury time.
Witnesses say police opened fire with live ammunition and tear gas at the Barbourfields Stadium in Bulawayo.
One fan was shot in the head and another hit in the groin during the unrest, police spokesman Smile Dube says.
A police station at Barbourfields was attacked, five vehicles were extensively damaged and seven policemen injured in clashes that lasted for several hours.
Civil rights group are accusing the police of being heavy handed.
"The riot was a reflection of the situation we are in," said Professor Lovemore Madhuku, who heads a coalition of churches, trades unions and human rights groups that is demanding sweeping constitutional reforms.
"It is a manifestation of the political tension - the police just chase ordinary people without any fear."
Story filed: 10:43 Monday 29th July 2002
From The Wall Street Journal, 25 July
Death of a nation
Creating famine is hard work, but Robert Mugabe is indefatigable
New York - Zimbabwe's mission to the United Nations occupies a low, gold-panelled building in midtown Manhattan. On a recent hot morning, I pressed the doorbell and was admitted to a cool, neat waiting room--in which no one else was waiting. Posters on the walls advertised Zimbabwe's natural wonders, including wild elephants and the splendid Victoria Falls, with the caption "Africa's Paradise." Yet in today's Zimbabwe what looms large is not paradise but famine. "The situation is deteriorating fairly rapidly," says Kevin Farrell, country director for the U.N.'s World Food Program, reached by phone in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare. He says that in any village right now, "you will see people clearly hungry." The U.N. is appealing for $611 million worth of emergency aid for sub-Saharan Africa. Almost half of that is for Zimbabwe, the workers now predict that without massive help, hundreds of thousands may soon starve to death. One seasoned relief expert who recently visited Zimbabwe, the Rev. Jack Finucane of American based Concern Worldwide, doubts that even drastic international action will be enough. "I don't think you can avoid large numbers of people dying of starvation this year in Zimbabwe, Father Finucane told me in a phone interview. "There's a problem about getting food into the country."
There is nothing natural about this. True, Zimbabwe has had a drought. But it's a nation that inherited from colonial days some of the best infrastructure in Africa. There's nothing wrong with the roads, on which Father Finucane travelled hundreds of miles to gather the evidence on which he based his grim findings. In our modern world, with its swift transport, global markets and cheap technology - supplemented in a crisis by a vast network of eager aid agencies - there is no way that famine can be chalked up simply to natural disaster. Given any reasonable degree of freedom, people faced with dwindling supplies of food will make mighty use of their basic human ingenuity to find ways to survive. It takes a lot of work, by determined tyrants, to starve human beings to death. Stalin engineered a terrible famine in the 1930s to subdue rebellious farmers in Ukraine. Mao in the 1950s and '60s starved some 30 million Chinese to death in the process of consolidating his grip on power. Ethiopians suffered famine in the 1980s under the Marxist rule of Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, who was finally ousted in 1991 (and retired to luxury digs in Zimbabwe, where he still resides). North Korea's totalitarian Kim Jong Il has forced the starvation of more than one million North Koreans since the mid-1990s, rather than let them grow their own crops, trade in free markets and quite probably save their own lives.
At Zimbabwe's U.N. mission, above the reception desk, near the promos for paradise, hangs a portrait of the ruler who has chosen to enrol this once-fruitful country in the axis of famine: "His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe" - Robert Gabriel Mugabe. Mr. Mugabe peers out from behind big dark-rimmed spectacles, looking younger in this official portrait than his 78 years. He has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, tightening his grip over time. As some countries in Africa have begun to liberalize, Zimbabweans have been looking more urgently for change, turning to such opposition figures as Morgan Tsvangirai, a popular trade union leader. Mr. Mugabe has responded with increasingly destructive tactics for keeping power - imposing price controls, nationalizing enterprises and turning loose gangs known as "war veterans" to brutalize opponents. In March, Mr. Mugabe "won" re-election, defeating Mr. Tsvangirai in a rigged vote. The U.S. State Department described the election as "marred by disenfranchisement of urban voters, violent intimidation against opposition supporters, intimidation of the independent press and the judiciary and other irregularities." Despite all that, Mr. Tsvangirai still won about 40% of the vote.
Over the past two years, Mr. Mugabe's bid to boost his waning support has included a "land reform" in which his government ordered white commercial farmers to quit farming and surrender their land to be parcelled out to blacks. This was done in the name of redressing racial injustice left over from colonial times. In an independence day speech on April 18, Mr. Mugabe announced triumphantly that the land "has finally come to its rightful owners." But these huge farms, run with large economies of scale, were the most productive source of the country's food. Their confiscation, carried out in many cases by violent mobs, has brought farming to a near halt. With famine imminent, Mr. Mugabe's regime has ordered almost 3,000 white farmers still on their land to halt all production and leave their property within the next three weeks. According to sources such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, the parcelling out to date has been neither equitable nor productive. London's Daily Telegraph reported in May that vast tracts of land had been "handed out to President Mugabe's closest allies, including 10 cabinet ministers, seven MP's [members of Parliament] and his brother-in-law." Concern Worldwide estimates that yields have plunged 90% from what was once normal. And though the drought ended months ago and many of the reservoirs are now full, Mr. Mugabe's ruinous land "reform" means there is now almost no effective irrigation or new planting.
Whatever hardship all this means for the white farmers, by far the worst hit by these ruinous tactics are millions of blacks. Nor can people simply buy supplies on the open market. The government runs a Grain Marketing Board that has monopoly rights to import and deal in commodities such as corn - the staple food in Zimbabwe. Roadblocks restrict unauthorized shipments into the country. Farmers are forced to sell exclusively to the state marketing board, at well below world price, which further reduces incentives for large-scale planting. The marketing board rations its stocks, funnelling food toward Mr. Mugabe's supporters and stinting the opposition, according to USAID head Andrew Natsios. Mr. Natsios describes Mr. Mugabe as "predatory and tyrannical" and says the Mugabe government "has politicized the distribution of food." Making matters worse, government policy has also brought soaring inflation, now in the triple digits, which has been fast eroding the buying power of ordinary Zimbabweans. The official exchange rate is now about 1/16th the black-market rate for hard currency, meaning that even if Zimbabweans resort to the black market, the price of imported food is increasingly out of reach. In a country that was once among the most prosperous and promising in Africa, Mr. Mugabe's government is "causing the mass destruction of the middle class," says USAID's Mr. Natsios.
This is causing deep alarm in neighboring South Africa. In a June 19 cover letter to an extensive report compiled by dissident civic groups in Zimbabwe, documenting abuses committed by the Mugabe government, South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote that "Zimbabweans are now suffering the brunt of policies that could soon spill over into the entire region." Describing the March presidential election as "not fair," Archbishop Tutu added: "It is now clear that the resolution to the Zimbabwe crisis can only be found in recapturing the legitimacy of government and returning the country to a fair and just rule of law." Aid donors are now trying to maneuver emergency rations through Mr. Mugabe's horrific political maze - which has included objections by Harare officials to the importation of genetically modified grain. This precludes some kinds of corn that Americans routinely eat. This week the U.N. issued a frantic call for swifter relief to avert catastrophic starvation. Assorted nongovernmental organizations have been urgently petitioning finicky officials in Harare for permission to ship in enough food to feed Zimbabweans deprived of the freedom to feed themselves. Mr. Mugabe, however, hasn't been bothering himself much with all the fuss about famine. He was off in Cuba last week, lauding what he calls his "fast track" land policy and hobnobbing with his old pal Fidel Castro - another septuagenarian believer in the power of rationing.
Back in New York, my visit to Zimbabwe's mission to the U.N. led to an interview the next day with the ambassador to the U.N., Tichaona Jokonya. An elderly, well-spoken man, Mr. Jokonya offered an intriguing window on the history of Zimbabwe, including an account of his own role in fighting colonial rule along with Mr. Mugabe some three decades back, a part for which Mr. Jokonya says he was trained in China during the late 1960s by the forces of Mao Tse-tung, one of his heroes. Mr. Jokonya agreed that not all is well is Zimbabwe today, saying that "half the population will be affected" by hunger, and noting that the grain marketing board has its shortcomings. He added that Zimbabwe is a "young" nation and needs time and understanding. But time is running out. And what most needs understanding is the kind of information I learned from a relief worker in Zimbabwe who has just put in a long stint going village to village. This relief worker described people in the countryside who still look healthy but are now running through their last resources - selling off the cow or the goats, boiling roots for food, and waiting in mile-long queues at local offices of the state's Grain Marketing Board - when anything is actually available there. The relief worker described an old Zimbabwean woman who came with hundreds of others to a foreign aid center set up near a village school. She said that almost everyone she knows is getting desperate: "We beg, we borrow, we look for food." In hunger, if nothing else, she added, "we are all equal now."
978,000 people are affected by the food crisis in this region, according to the World Food Programme.
This is the region worst affected by the drought.
Zimbabwe food crisis
Matabeleland: 978,000 affected
Mashonaland: 1 million
Urban areas: 850,000
The BBC's Thabo Kunene in Bulawayo says that maize meal is now readily available in the city - but only on the black market.
The government has attempted to reduce inflation by controlling the prices of basic goods.
But this has had the effect of creating shortages in the shops, where 10kg bag of maize meal costs Z$380.
Meanwhile, in markets and in the houses of black market traders, it is easily available for Z$1,000 a bag.
Our correspondent says that some millers are encouraging the black market trade in order to increase their revenue.
Following protests by the United States, the distribution of food aid in rural areas was briefly opened up to opposition supporters.
But Thabo Kunene says that with local elections coming up in September, it is feared that food aid will again be used as a campaign tool.
972,000 people are affected.
I cannot go and buy maize
Energy Bara Independent journalist
One such rural centre, Rutenga, "looks like a squatter camp" he said.
People wait for days until a truck arrives with food but even then, only maybe one person in five gets the food.
In some remote parts of Masvingo province, such as Chiredzi, the roads have not been repaired since the devastating floods of 2000 and even government trucks cannot get through.
He says that some aid agencies are distributing food but they are only allowed to travel to rural areas if they are accompanied by representatives of the ruling Zanu-PF party.
And this is also the case in Masvingo town.
Energy Bara works for the Daily News, which the government sees as pro-opposition, and he says that Zanu-PF officials turn him away from shops which have food.
"I cannot go and buy maize," he said.
Friends and relatives must go on his behalf.
One million people need food aid.
Mashonaland generally receives more rain than other parts of the country.
But this year, some parts of the region have also been badly hit.
620,000 people affected.
The distribution of food aid is being done along party political lines.
Local journalist Zerubabel Mudzingwa told BBC News Online that he recently saw opposition supporters being kicked out of a queue for food aid in Mberengwa.
He says that the government is tying to control the distribution of food and has prevented most aid agencies from working independently.
Most food is being distributed in rural areas but people in the big towns such as Gweru are also hungry.
A food for work programme has been introduced, where people get food in exchange for doing casual work, such as filling in pot-holes for the city council.
The next harvest is next April and there are fears that the need for food will only increase before then.
Most of the 850,000 urban people affected by the food crisis are in the capital.
Most shops have run out of the staple food, maize-meal, as well as other basic commodities such as cooking oil and salt.
The BBC's Lewis Machipisa says that if people hear that deliveries are expected, they queue up from early in the morning.
Alternatively, foodstuffs are available on the black market - from stalls on the streets.
Unless, of course, the police get to the black marketeers first.
Our correspondent says that food aid is not being distributed in Harare and no food for work programmes have been set up.
843,000 people are affected by the food crisis.
Northern parts of Manicaland have the highest rainfall in Zimbabwe but southern areas are more drought-prone.