Zimbabwe: Food As Political Weapon

According to starving villagers in southern Zimbabwe, officials of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU PF party are denying them food, because they didn't vote for the right party in previous elections.

A frail, weak and malnourished 11-year-old boy walks into a mission health centre in the town of Plumtree in Zimbabwe's drought-ravaged Matabeleland South Province. Thabiso Moyo looks older than his age and is walking with the aid of his mother. For almost a week he has survived on wild fruits. Hunger has also forced Thabiso and other children in the area to stop attending school.

At the outpatient section of the health centre, the foreign doctor tells Thabiso's mother that her child is suffering from malnutrition and needs a feeding scheme. The available scheme, however, is for children under the age of five only. Thabiso's mother begs the doctor to let her son enter the programme. Thabiso is then given a bag of beans and some vitamin tablets.

Danger of famine

Sithembile, Thabiso's mother says the last time they received food from the government was in March. She took part in the grain loan scheme the government implemented last year, allowing starving people to buy food on credit and pay later.

"The government has abandoned us. People are suffering here. We have no food and organizations that were helping us have been kicked out by Mugabe's people," says Sithembile, referring to party officials of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU PF.

Thabiso is one of thousands of hunger victims in Matabeleland South. If food supplies will not reach the starving population in time, the danger of famine is imminent. According to Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) MP Siyabonga Ncube, in September five people died of hunger in the Brunapeg area, close to the border with Botswana. A Catholic priest claims the number of dead is 12.

A rising number of children are too hungry to go school. The children in this photo have been fortunate so far.

Finish and klaar

In 2008, the government ordered Western aid agencies to pack their backs and leave the rural areas, accusing them of using food to campaign for the two MDC factions, one led by Morgan Tsvangirai and the other by Welshman Ncube. Tsvangirai is currently Prime Minister in a coalition government with ZANU PF.

"In most cases, when we get food from the government or donors, it is grabbed by councilors from Mugabe's party, ZANU-PF, who also do the distribution. If you are not a member of their party, you don't get the maize - finish and klaar! [period!]," says villager Mlondo Mathe.

According to the villagers, when people die of hunger in the area, the cause of death is not recorded. Sometimes government officials say they died of AIDS. Andrew Langa, a top ZANU PF official, claims that no one has died of hunger in Matabeleland. "Those are lies by MDC officials [who] are used by their Western masters," says Langa, who, during his visits to villages, is surrounded by bodyguards and youths.

Low rainfall

Langa does admit that starvation is a major problem in the province, caused by low rainfall, and that the area suffers from drought every year. He denies, however, that people have died because of hunger. He also disclaims his party uses food as a political weapon.

But Siyabonga Ncube of the MDC says people have indeed died of hunger. He says the situation is worse for HIV patients. "Langa is lying about the food situation in the province. His party is to blame, because they kicked out the aid agencies."

The right party

He confirms that "Mugabe's people" are stealing food aid. A senior ZANU PF leader allegedly told the starving villagers that the government will not feed them because they did not vote for the right party in previous elections. Matabeleland South is controlled by Welshman Ncube's MDC.

According to MDC officials, an estimated 200,000 people in the province are in urgent need of food aid. A delegation from the European Union that recently visited Matabeleland, promised to look into the food situation in Matabeleland South.

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