|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
Enough is Enough
We have a fundamental right to freedom of expression!
29 August 2004
It was none other than Robert Mugabe who once remarked that “absolute power is when a man is starving and you are the only one able to give him food”. Zimbabwe and the world should take note that he and his party are in deadly earnest about demonstrating the truth of this maxim. The suffering which will be inflicted upon millions in the process does not deter him – or them – for one moment. It is a price they are more than willing to pay in pursuit of that hold on absolute power.
With the looming 2005 parliamentary poll already casting a deep shadow across the nation, ZANU PF has positioned itself to take total control of the food procurement, storage and distribution process. To this end the massive famine relief operation of the World Food Programme – to which over six million Zimbabweans already owe their lives – has been closed down summarily by ministerial decree, and NGO’s ordered to cease their feeding schemes with immediate effect. And all this despite the dire state of the country’s own agricultural industry, now reeling under the effects of the chaotic fast-track land resettlement programme, and clearly unable to provide for the nation’s food requirements.
In order to hide from its own people and from the world the enormity of what it is doing, the regime has been forced to stifle the free flow of information about the food situation. Hence the abrupt termination of the WFP food security survey and hence the deliberate plan of disinformation put into effect by the regime’s own propaganda agents. This policy of disinformation was launched with the biggest lie of all, broadcast to the world by Robert Mugabe himself, that Zimbabwe was on its way to producing a bumper harvest this year – a grain surplus which would render any further food aid unnecessary. Mugabe’s lie has thus become the benchmark to which those colluding with him in this massive deception, notably Joseph Made and Jonathan Moyo, have to work. Their task, to which they have devoted themselves with the usual enthusiasm, is to produce the “smoke and mirrors” which distort the appalling reality and justify the decision to send the international food donors on their way.
Zimbabweans surely have a right to know the true position concerning the food security situation on which their lives ultimately depend, but that information is now being deliberately suppressed. In the past information about the food supplies was freely available, but as Zimconsult, a group of independent economic and planning consultants, say in their report entitled “Famine in Zimbabwe” (April 2004) “in the current situation of policy-induced food scarcity and the militarization of the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), the public is deliberately denied access to information”. Hence the nation has not been informed how much food was produced in the 2002/3 season, what quantities the GMB purchased, or the current status of cereal stocks in the country. And when the official records of Bulawayo City’s Health Department show that already this year more than 150 people have died as a direct result of food shortages in this urban area alone – surely the tip of the iceberg – the regime’s propaganda machine goes into overdrive to rubbish the story.
Yet as Abraham Lincoln once so wisely remarked “you cannot fool all the people all the time”. No matter what efforts are made to suppress the truth it has a habit of coming out eventually, and in this case sooner rather than later. Already there are clear signs of where the truth lies, and that truth is far removed from the complacent picture painted by Messrs Made and Moyo. Zimbabweans therefore will not have to wait until Robert Mugabe and his partners in crime (in the full literal sense) are dragged before an international tribunal to face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, before the appalling reality is revealed for all to see. While the full story may only emerge later and in such a scenario, already Zimbabweans are beginning to see through the labyrinth of ZANU PF’s lies and deceptions.
There is a broad consensus among all concerned that the baseline figure for Zimbabwe’s minimum cereal requirements is 1.9 million metric tonnes. This figure includes human consumption, stockfeed, industrial and other uses but does not include any provision for strategic reserves. But it is the likely size of the country’s own cereal harvest which is in contention. The figure of 2.4 million mt touted by the regime would indeed provide a significant surplus, but this figure has not been accepted by any of the other major players. Indeed while the regime has provided nothing of substance to back its wildly optimistic forecast, others have given the most cogent reasons for discounting it.
We may begin with the report of the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC). This team comprising the United Nations, the relevant aid agencies and some of the regime’s own officials, concluded that there would be a cereal deficit of 177,681 mt for the year to March 2005. In a summary of their findings they state unequivocally that “a total of 2.3 million people will not be able to meet their minimum cereal needs during the 2004/5 season. This represents about 29.5 per cent of the total population”. A stark warning indeed, which would surely jolt all but the most uncaring or heartless regimes into instant action.
The ZIMVAC report, completed in April this year, is both professional and objective. If anything it is regarded among aid agencies as erring on the conservative side in assessing present and future food deficits. The amount of detail provided is impressive. Across the country, district by district, it gives the numbers expected to be in food deficit, for the periods April to June, July to November and December 2004 to March 2005. The figures show a progressive increase in absolute and percentage terms and also provide some interesting comparisons – for example the range between a 13.8 per cent of the population in food deficit in the Zvimba District (December to March 2005) and a whopping 53.4 per cent in Hwange District for the same period. A carefully researched and balanced document therefore to which those responsible for ensuring adequate food supplies for the nation should surely pay the closest attention. Yet once again the regime has responded with denial. When they could not suppress the report they chose to ignore its findings, holding blindly to the official line that a “bumper harvest” was around the corner which would supply all the nation’s needs. (One’s mind goes back to the loyal Communist Party cadres in China who did the same in the late 1950’s and early 60’s, sending in glowing - and completely fictitious - reports about a record harvest rather than daring to acknowledge the failure of Mao Zedong’s “great leap forward”. And they continued to do so even as the catastrophic famine, that was to claim over 14 million lives, was beginning to take its terrible toll).
In order to produce their report, “Famine in Zimbabwe”, the Zimconsult team conducted their own field observations in Mashonaland, East, Central and West and in the Manicaland, Midlands and Masvingo provinces. They also consulted the various farmers’ organizations and drew on information provided by such reputable sources as Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET) and the SADC Early Warning System. Their study looks at the factors determining the likely level of production, including the areas under cultivation and average yields – the latter being determined in turn by the availability of seed, fertilizer and tillage, as well as rainfall. In each case, with the exception of rainfall which is a “given”, the consultants found a chronic lack of planning on the part of the government which resulted in major shortfalls.
Contrary to the ruling party’s own official dogma, seed growers were evicted from their farms in the chaotic scramble for land, resulting in only 40 per cent of the seed required at the start of the season being available to farmers. The lack of foreign currency to import raw materials for fertilizer production and the unrealistic price controls imposed on the products, kept fertilizers in chronic short supply. And tillage was severely restricted by such factors as the acute shortages of diesel, the cost of ploughing, and the lack of spare parts which grounded 50 per cent of the DDF tractors.
Combining the effects of these adverse “human” factors together with the unusual rainfall pattern and failure of the early planted maize, the consultants predicted a maize harvest of between 650,000 and 850,000 mt. Allowing for a crop of small grains of between 100,000 and 200,000 mt and also making allowance for the 250,000 mt maize purchased by the GMB last year (and retained in storage despite the severe shortages of mealie meal in the country), they envisaged a national cereal deficit in the current season of between 600,000 and 900,000 mt.
“Whichever way one looks at the situation”, the consultants conclude, “there will be a huge shortage of food in the country, caused by a potent combination of chaotic land reform and destructive macro-economic policies”.
Nor are these predictions out of line with those of FEWSNET which, with a slightly more optimistic appraisal of likely maize and small grains’ yields, comes up with a shortfall of between 500,000 and 800,000 mt.
In summary, it is only the regime’s own apologists who are holding to the line that Zimbabwe will produce enough food for all in the current season, or to the ridiculous fiction that a bumper harvest is on its way. Every other reputable authority is predicting a massive food deficit. The most conservative estimate of that deficit (ZIMVAC’s) leaves 2.3 million people, or nearly 30 per cent of the population, unable to meet their basic cereal needs – in short a catastrophic famine which is already under way.
The pain is already severe and it is becoming more intense with each week that passes. None are more aware of this pain, nor so frustrated by their inability to respond to it, than the NGO’s and donor agencies which have been told to shut down their life-saving operations. World Vision is one of the big players which have been ordered to terminate all food distribution operations, though “not to go away” at least for the time being. With the result that while their warehouse in Bulawayo, with a capacity of about 6,000 mt, stands full of grain, they cannot use any of that food even to continue their feeding programmes for the terminally ill, pregnant women and lactating mothers and malnourished children under 5 years of age. World Vision’s own careful research, completed before the ban on information gathering, shows an alarming trend of increasing food shortages in the rural areas where they were operating. For example the cereal supply of 48.5 per cent of the population in the Insiza area was expected to run out altogether by the end of August, and of 70.5 per cent of the same population group before the end of October. (The corresponding figures for Gwanda are 33.8 per cent and 55.1 per cent and for Beitbridge 22.2 per cent and 50.2 per cent respectively)
Even within ZANU PF the strain of holding to the official line against the increasing weight of evidence to the contrary is beginning to tell, with three provincial governors requesting food aid from central government and asking for NGO’s to be allowed to continue distributing food aid in their drought-stricken areas. Their intervention must surely explain the recent, reluctant about-turn of the Social Welfare Minister, Paul Mangwana, who has now said that NGO’s can resume their schemes targeting specific groups such as orphans and HIV/AIDS victims. At the same time, in what must surely rank as one of the most ridiculous understatements both of the current national crisis and of the contribution of international donors in saving millions of Zimbabwean lives, Mangwana added that NGO’s will be “allowed to chip in when there is an emergency”.
Contradictions are also apparent within the regime’s own figures, for example between their statistical forecasts of a national harvest of 1.2 million mt and the mythical 2.4 million mt put about by Jonathan Moyo’s propaganda machine. Consider also the importation of grain from Zambia through Chirundu and from America, Argentina and South Africa through Beit Bridge, a reality the regime has done its utmost to conceal but which is now well documented. For example the South African Grain Information Service records 168,000 mt of maize and 50,000 mt of wheat being shipped to Zimbabwe so far this year. Hardly necessary if a bumper harvest is expected. No doubt this imported grain is destined to be lodged in the GMB silos, now effectively under military control, and used, not to feed the starving today, but rather as a part of what one might call Mugabe’s strategic election reserves.
What we are looking at here is not simply an appalling failure of planning, as serious an indictment of the regime as that would be in itself. True there have been the most dismal failures in this regard which provide ample evidence that ZANU PF is unfit to govern. But the most serious charge to level at Robert Mugabe and those who follow him blindly, is not what they have left unplanned but what they have planned with the utmost precision and the most diabolical cunning – and that is a scenario in which they can exploit to the full a national catastrophe. The conclusion is inescapable, that Mugabe closed down the WFP feeding programme and ordered NGO’s to cease their humanitarian assistance because he feared, first, that they would dilute his power and second, that they would have direct access to the facts which would blow his fiction of a bumper harvest out of the water. Mugabe welcomes a famine as the ultimate means of political control and absolute power. Whatever the appalling cost to his own people, he will not permit anyone or anything to undermine that hold on power.