12 April 2002

Zanu PF hijacks food aid distribution from WFP

The ruling Zanu PF party has hijacked the World Food Programme's food aid distribution process in the rural areas by exploiting loopholes in the system. Those in need of food assistance are required to register with their ward councillors, village development committees, traditional leaders, headmasters and agriculture extension workers. Most of these officials are Zanu PF supporters and those who have tried to be impartial in the execution of their duties have faced the wrath of war veterans and Zanu PF militias who are leading a nation-wide purge of MDC members. The WFP, which is heading the food distribution programme through its implementing partners, Christian Care, Orap and World Vision, does not have the capacity to handle the screening of those in need of food assistance. In Umzingwane district last week war veterans threatened to derail the WFP distribution exercise after they demanded that they should take charge. Norbert Dube, the director of Orap, confirmed to the Independent that some groups wanted to hijack the programme in Umzingwane district for political reasons. "We had problems with some people who wanted to meddle in the distribution exercise for political reasons but we made it clear to them that the food we are issuing is apolitical," said Dube. WFP officials in Umzingwane caused an impasse after they refused to hand over the exercise to war veterans who wanted to move the distribution venue to their stronghold in the Nswazi area. Over 600 000 people in south-eastern and south-western Zimbabwe are in dire need of food assistance in the worst drought facing the country since 1992.

Movement for Democratic Change agriculture spokesman Renson Gasela said he had raised the issue with the WFP. "I have had meetings with officials from WFP who gave me assurances that the food distribution programme will not be politicised," said Gasela. But there are problems, he said. "When the organisations go to distribute food, everything will appear normal and orderly but on the ground our supporters are starving," said Gasela. Reports from Mberengwa East and West indicate that war veterans are driving away opposition supporters from school supplementary feeding schemes and from buying maize from the government-controlled Grain Marketing Board (GMB). The MDC district chairman for Mberengwa East, Sam Mlilo, who is seeking refuge at a safe house in Harare, said war veterans with the aid of youth militias were preventing opposition supporters from participating in food schemes funded by donors or buying maize grain from the GMB. "Zanu PF structures are being used for any food programmes and MDC supporters are taken off food queues. If they manage to buy without being noticed the food is grabbed from them," said Mlilo.

Mlilo said even the traditional line of distributing food was also being politicised as maize meal was only distributed at Zanu PF militia bases and at chiefs' homes. Mlilo said the maize grain was sold at youth terror bases like Chamakudo primary school, Mataga growth point, Mbuya Nehanda military camp and Ngungubane military camp. Amani Trust chairperson for the southern region, Sheri Eppel, said her organisation has received reports from Mberengwa that children of opposition party supporters were being denied access to food being distributed under the donor-funded supplementary feeding scheme. In the affected areas MDC supporters are not even allowed to buy maize from the GMB. Those who somehow manage to buy the maize have to bribe the war veterans who have taken control of the distribution exercise. Mlilo said he had seen children being driven out of the supplementary meal lines at Chamakudo Primary School, near Mataga, because of their parents' political beliefs. The WFP had not responded to written questions by yesterday. (ZWNews / Zimbabwe Independent)

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