By Edgar Gweshe
After his maize crop succumbed to the severe drought that hit most parts of the country, Cain Mamutse of Bikita district in Masvingo province was left looking up to food aid from government and non-governmental organizations to sustain his family.
His case is similar to that of most villagers in the province who were left staring hunger in the face following a disastrous 2012 farming season and the government’s Grain Loan Scheme has become their hope of survival.
However, Mamutse and a host of other villagers’ hopes of finding a respite through the government’s Grain Loan Scheme have almost crumbled after they learnt that they were not eligible to benefit from the relief programme due to their political affiliation.
“We recorded very poor harvests this year and we have been looking forward to the government for food aid. However, we have been told that we will not be getting anything from the Grain Loan Scheme due to the fact that we are supporters of the MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai.
There are some known ZANU-PF members here who have made it a point that anyone deemed to be anti-ZANU-PF should not be getting anything,” said Mamutse.
Reports are rampant in Bikita district that ZANU-PF members have hijacked the Grain Loan Scheme in a bid to scratch MDC supporters from benefiting from the government programme. The situation has exacerbated the hunger situation for most MDC supporters in the district.
Similar cases have also been reported in such areas as Zaka West where war veterans leader, Jabulani Sibanda launched a campaign called “Operation Kubudirana Pachena” which has seen a purge of violence against MDC supporters who are also being denied food aid.
The development cements concerns by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in July this year that food aid was being distributed along political lines in Masvingo Province. In August this year, the Prime Minister took the matter to Cabinet where a task force was set up to ensure there is no partisan distribution of food aid in the country’s provinces.
An MDC-T councilor from Sosera village in Bikita district who declined to be named for fear of victimization revealed that some ZANU-PF candidates who lost the council elections in 2008 had hijacked the grain loan scheme and were trying to sideline them from the administration of the programme.
“The problem we have is that there are some ZANU-PF members who lost the council elections who are trying to hijack the Grain Loan Scheme. As elected councilors, we are supposed to be in charge of the programme but that is not the situation here. Whenever there is a food aid distribution programme, the ZANU-PF guys always try by all means to sideline us and even the MP,” said the councilor.
MDC-T MP for Bikita West, Heya Shoko confirmed the allegations saying politicization of food aid was rampant in his constituency. He said the situation was mostly pronounced in Ward 2 of Sosera village under Chief Marozva.
“That issue is there and very rampant in my constituency. I have received numerous reports from our councilors that they are being sidelined from grain distribution programmes and that our supporters have been scratched from benefiting. At times I have to bulldoze my way as an MP otherwise they will even be trying to sideline me from the programmes,” he said.
He said ZANU-PF’s hijacking of the programme was a vote buying tactic ahead of elections scheduled for next year.
“They would like to give a wrong picture that the Grain Loan Scheme is a ZANU-PF project and this they do in the hope that people will vote for them in the forthcoming elections but I wonder how that will work when they say others should not benefit,” he said.
He also pointed out that some Border Gezi graduates who have been deployed as Agritex officers in Bikita were some of the major culprits behind the politicization of food aid in Bikita.
The situation is also true for some villagers and councilors from Mushayavanhu village in Gutu Central who raised concern over the conduct of some village heads on the issue of food aid distribution in the area.
The councilors blamed the village heads for acting in a partisan manner that has seen people deemed to be MDC supporters being sidelined from the Grain Loan Scheme. They also raised concern over the lack of transparency and accountability on the Grain Loan Scheme.
Said a villager who identified herself as Martha Garidzanwa, “The problem with some of the village heads and chiefs here is that they are staunch ZANU-PF supporters and they have vowed that they will never work with people from the MDC. Even when they include us on the list of beneficiaries, they always tell us that we should play second fiddle to them saying the programme is a ZANU-PF initiative that should benefit its supporters only.”
The villagers revealed that ZANU-PF youths always make it a point that they will be at the forefront whenever grain is being distributed.
Said Mark Makusha, a villager from Mushayavanhu village, ‘The Grain Loan Scheme has been turned into a ZANU-PF programme by some rowdy youths here who will be working in cahoots with some partisan traditional leaders .This has also led to a lack of transparency as far as distribution of the grain is concerned.”
MDC-T MP for Gutu Central, Oliver Chirume confirmed that some village heads and chiefs in his area were politicizing food aid distribution in his constituency.
He said, “There are reports from some councilors that some village heads and chiefs have become so partisan to the extent of saying MDC supporters are not eligible to benefit from government programmes. The councilors complained that they are being by-passed by these village heads and the situation has led to some people failing to access food aid.”
A Masvingo based non governmental organization which monitors human rights violations, Community Tolerance, Reconciliation and Development (COTRAD) in its July newsletter condemned the practice by some traditional leaders that has led to partisan distribution of food aid.
Reads part of the report, “Traditional Leaders in Masvingo province have continuously clashed with civilians on the Grain Loan Scheme. Mwenezi North ward 17 Councillor Mr Hlamalani Chauke on 21 July 2012 was hackled by Chief Neshuro at Neshuro Business Centre during the distribution of grain. Violence erupted before the distribution further delaying the distribution of the grain .
“Youths that were among the beneficiary intervened and clashed .The process was delayed for about three hours and later resumed after police intervention. The traditional leadership in Masvingo province have continued to paralyse the responsible councilors who are supposed to compile the names of the beneficiaries in executing their duties.”
The group also blasted the ban on 29 non-governmental organizations by Masvingo Provincial governor Titus Maluluke this year saying the action amounts to a politicization of food aid. The World Food Programme estimates that about 1,7 million people will be in need of food aid this year and the Zimbabwean government has declared five provinces as disaster areas. These include Masvingo, Manicaland, Midlands and the two Matabeleland provinces.
ZANU-PF Masvingo Provincial Secretary for Administration, Edmund Mhere refuted claims his party was politicizing food aid distribution saying the Grain Loan scheme had nothing to do with party affiliation.
He said, “Government policy says that people who benefit from the grain are registered by village heads who will then submit the names of the beneficiaries to the chiefs. The chief is the one who works in conjunction with the Grain Marketing Board so I do not know how these people can be sidelined. It has nothing to do with party affiliation and as far as I am concerned, it does not involve ZANU-PF.”
He cemented previous claims by the party’s spokesperson; Rugare Gumbo that claims of politicization of food aid in various parts of the country was “cheap propaganda”. Nehanda Radio