19 February 2008

Zimbabwe: Shortages Worsen As Zanu-PF Diverts Resources to Elections

As much as Zimbabweans would like their hardships to disappear when they cast their vote at the ballot box on March 29, it is the elections themselves that are now reportedly making the daily struggles even worse.

There are reports that the ruling party is diverting basic goods, already in short supply, to their election campaigns. Much needed supplies of mealie-meal and fuel were reportedly used by ZANU-PF candidates during the primaries.

The party is also allegedly building stockpiles of goods to be used during the elections and for Robert Mugabe's birthday bash in Beitbridge on Saturday.

Meanwhile life for ordinary Zimbabweans has become even more difficult. Journalist Angus Shaw described the conditions on the ground as "appalling". He said groups of up to 40 workers meet as early as 5:00 a.m. so they can walk to work together because they cannot afford to pay for transportation.

Many walk a distance of at least 15 kilometres to work. Shaw spoke to a security guard who quit his job recently because it was cheaper to stay at home rather than go to work.

Petrol is selling at an average of Z$10 million per litre. An average trip to the city centre from the high-density areas of Harare costs about Z$4 million. A trip from Harare to the town of Murehwa, a distance of about 100 kilometres, costs Z$30 million. Despite all this, reports indicate that the government recently commandeered supplies of fuel from petrol stations for use in ZANU-PF campaigns.

As for the daily food staple, mealie-meal, Shaw said there was some available in the shops briefly last week. This was due to a price reduction that had been announced by the National Pricing and Income Commission . This government appointed commission set the price of a 10 kg bag of "mealie" at Z$9 million. Shaw said the supplies did not last long and shortages are reported again in many areas.

A report in a Monday bulletin from the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) said there was "widespread vote buying in Zanu PF" during the party's primary elections. Aspiring ZANU-PF candidates were allegedly selling scarce commodities such as soap, cooking oil and sugar to the electorate at heavily discounted prices.

The ZESN report alleged that one government minister distributed free sports kits and money for school fees. Another minister is alleged to have promised scarce cellphone lines to voters. The report also said that the state Grain Marketing Board had "played an active role in the campaigns" by enticing voters, using corn meal. Some voters were allegedly given 50 kg bags of corn meal at a rally.

Shaw said the entry of former finance minister Simba Makoni into the presidential race had brought some excitement about the elections, but mostly in intellectual circles. But ordinary Zimbabweans that the journalist speaks to at bus stops told him they would register a protest vote against government for destroying the economy.


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