By Sij Ncube
HARARE, JANUARY 15, 2016 – ZIMBABWE’S opposition says President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF administration’s move to only allow the state-run Grain Marketing Board (GMB) to exclusively import grain is part of its strategy to politicise relief aid in the wake of a crippling drought and ahead of 2018 polls.
More than 1, 3 million people, especially in the rural areas, are reportedly facing hunger due to the prevailing drought coupled with Mugabe’s skewed agricultural and economic policies.
The opposition say Mugabe’s party is politicising food with reports of MDC, People First and People’s Democratic Party, claiming their supporters in rural areas are being denied food hand-outs on political grounds.
Last week Joseph Made, the minister of agriculture, granted GMB monopoly to import a total of 230 000 metric tonnes of grain despite appeals by private millers to be also allowed to ship in grain in the wake of serious food shortages particularly the southern regions of the country.
For instance the arid region of Matabeleland is reportedly holding grain to last it for less than two months as reserves have been depleted in Bulawayo.
The government has stated it needs to import about 700 000 metric tonnes of grain urgently in a country which required about 1, 8 million tonnes of grain for human and livestock consumption annually.
But there are fears if private players are roped in to import grain, Zanu PF would not be able to subject its distribution to its usual patronage system.
But statistics indicate the GMB has ordered only 30 000 metrics tonnes from Zambia, a figure industry players say is not enough to feed starving people in rural areas until the next planting season.
Recently, villagers in Mutasa barricaded the GMB depot in protest before handing a petition to the District Administrator, Tendai Kapenzi, over the politicisation of food aid at a time when most parts of the country are facing a menacing drought.
Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) national director, Okay Machisa, said this is not the first incident of politicisation of food aid in Mutasa in recent months after a ZimRights team in Manicaland in November 2015 unearthed similar practises at Manica Bridge, and received similar reports from Chivi and Mount Darwin.
This also comes as there are reports in January 2016 that villagers in Matabeleland North’s Bubi Districts are being asked to produce ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) party cards to access food aid.
MDC-T spokesperson, Obert Gutu, said denial of importation licences to private players was a calculated move by Zanu PF to politicise food aid in order to curry favour with weary villagers ahead of crunch elections in 2018.
”Zanu PF has routinely used food aid as a tool for political patronage. Actually, the Zanu PF regime is quite happy that there will be a serious drought in Zimbabwe this year. This affords them an opportunity to manipulate hungry and desperate citizens, particularly in the rural areas, to vote for Zanu PF if they are to be given food aid,” said Gutu.
“Dictatorships hate it when people are in a position to look after themselves and to buy food without government assistance. We all know that the management of most, if not all, government parastatals, including the GMB, is corrupt to the core. The Zanu PF regime will now simply abuse the GMB to ensure that hungry villagers can only access food aid on condition that they attend Zanu PF party functions and also vote for Zanu PF candidates in elections, “he added.
Gutu said MDC supporters, particularly in rural areas, have suffered serious discrimination when it comes to the distribution of food aid and farming inputs by the government.
However, Zanu PF spokesman, Simon Khaya Moyo, could not immediately comment as his phone went unanswered when VOP sought comment Thursday.
“Throughout all the country’s provinces, we have received numerous reports of partisan distribution of food aid and farming inputs such as maize seed and fertilizer. Our supporters have been flatly refused access to these inputs and also to food aid simply because they support the MDC,” Gutu added.
“We would like to unreservedly condemn this evil practice of partisan distribution of food aid and agricultural inputs. Only Zanu PF supporters are allowed to access these goods regardless of the fact that it is government’s constitutional obligation to provide food aid and farming inputs to all deserving people, regardless of political affiliation. After all, these goods are purchased using taxpayers’ money.”
Jacob Mafume, the spokesperson for the Tendai Biti-led Peoples Democratic Party, told VOP Mugabe’s administration has a constitutional mandate for the well-being of all citizens whether they belong to the ruling party or not.
“It is an elementary rule of constitutional government but that they behave like this (denying opposition supports relief food) shows that the government is no better than a gang of bandits who have captured state power. To deny food on partisan grounds is not only unlawful but an international crime,” said Mafume.
“Even in war zones like Syria food is being given to all sides by the United Nations and besieged towns are having food convoys. How a government in peace time can seek to use food as weapon for party members and votes is beyond belief. This can only come from very sick minds and unfortunately for our sins Zimbabwe is being governed by a very sick group of individuals.”
Machisa added: “While it is commendable that government is making efforts albeit slow to source for food supplements, the reports of discrimination in distribution of such aid makes unnecessarily petty and tragic of the entire food relief efforts being carried out using scarce public funds.”
Ricky Mukonza, a Zimbabwean political analyst based in South African, notes that Zanu PF has always used a patronage system to have some kind of control over the ordinary people particularly in the rural areas.
“This explains programmes such as the agricultural input support schemes that rural farmers have always enjoyed. Politicisation of the food aid programmes should be seen in the same light. ZANU PF want to use food aid as a means to ensure that the patron-client relationship exists (continue to exist) between the party and the ordinary Zimbabweans. Those who would have benefited from the food aid programme will be expected to support and vote for it in return,” said Mukonza.