|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
Energy Bara |
Masvingo, southern Zimbabwe
Hunger has tightened its grip in Zimbabwe, as thousands abandon their homes in search of food.
My three children and I just eat anything that is edible.
The government has failed to provide food to starving villagers and in Masvingo, thousands have left their homes in search of edible wild fruits and roots.
Others are pinning their hopes on striking gold. About 5,000 villagers have settled along the banks of the Vogondo river, about 40 km (25 miles) south-east of Masvingo town, where they are looking for nuggets.
One of the gold-diggers, Raphael Muchori, says: "If we go back home, we will starve to death."
In the worst affected areas of Masvingo province, floods have destroyed nearly all crops and livestock.
"We just eat anything that is edible," she says. "My three children have since dropped out of school because of hunger".
In urban areas long queues of people searching for mealie-meal, the country's staple food, are ubiquitous.
The Grain Marketing Board has run out of maize and the situation shows no sign of improving.
The country has so far imported only 100,000 tons of maize from South Africa which is far below the country's monthly needs.
Zimbabwe needs about 150,000 tons a month to feed its population.
And where food is available, it is distributed along political lines.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says its members are left out from the food relief programmes.
The MDC's vice-chairman in Masvingo, Shaky Matake, said supporters "are not being given food by the government . They are sometimes even denied the right to buy the food if it is available".
In a last-ditch effort to produce food, the government has planted maize near the town in Chiredzi, about 280km (160 miles) south east of Masvingo town.
But Mike Clarke of the Commercial Farmers Union says that will not help, given the possibility of frost there.
"Farmers have tried on several occasions to grow the crop in the area to no avail," Mr Clarke said. "The programme is extremely expensive and will not succeed."
Officials from the meteorological department say it will be impossible to grow maize in the winter (June-August) because of the low temperatures.
Zimbabwe has also started importing yellow maize meant for animals to feed starving villagers.
Two journalists working for the country's only privately-owned newspaper, The Daily News, and the Harare correspondent of the British Guardian remain in police custody.
Among journalists here, everyone wonders who will be next
The Daily News has since retracted its story after being unable to find the grave of the victim.
Under Zimbabwean law, Lloyd Mudiwa and Collin Chiwanza from the Daily News must be charged or released on Thursday - two days after they were picked up.
The Guardian's Andrew Meldrum was arrested on Wednesday.
The Vienna-based International Press Institute has condemned the latest arrests and called for the journalists' release.
"IPI believes that it is yet another attempt by Robert Mugabe's government to restrict the free flow of information through the intimidation and suppression of the media," said IPI head Johann P Fritz.
In an open letter to Mr Mugabe, he called on the Zimbabwean leader "to do everything possible to ensure that Meldrum is released forthwith."
Mr Meldrum's wife, Dolores, said that he was in good spirits and was sharing a cell with his colleagues from The Daily News.
"The police came to our front gate in their Land Rover at 7am in the morning. I don't think he was surprised. Among journalists here, everyone wonders who will be next."
Mr Meldrum's lawyer says he is accused of spreading false information - a charge which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.
Just days after Mr Mugabe's controversial re-election in March, he signed into law measures which severely curtail the activities of journalists.
Criticism of the president has become an offence, as is reporting "unauthorised" reports of cabinet meetings.
All journalists must register with a state-appointed commission, which has not yet been set up, and foreign correspondents will only be accredited for one-off events.
The Daily News report blamed supporters of President Mugabe's Zanu-PF for the "beheading" of a 53-year-old woman.
But last Saturday the paper's editor, Geoff Nyarota, said it appeared the newspaper had been misled by the husband.
"Until... Tadyanemhandu's grave is located and positively identified, we are left with no option but to... tender our most profound apologies to Zanu-PF, whose image was tarnished by the report in question," Mr Nyarota said.
Reacting to the arrests, the editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, said it was "outrageous" that Mr Meldrum "should be the subject of criminal charges for doing the job of a reporter."
Mr Rusbridger called on the Zimbabwean Government "to release him immediately and to drop charges against him and his colleagues on The Daily News."
Mr Nyarota and the three journalists detained this week have all been charged under the new legislation on the media.
Mr Nyarota has been arrested several times since the Daily News was launched in 1999.
The paper's printing press and main office were both bombed last year.