<<previous  | index  |  next>>

V. Human Rights Violations

Politicization of International Relief Assistance

Compared to relief programs in other parts of the world, the international aid system in Zimbabwe functions relatively “tightly”. Several discussions conducted during Human Rights Watch’s research in Zimbabwe revealed that aid workers and program managers generally believed that, relative to other relief situations, in Zimbabwe less international relief food was being diverted or distributed unfairly and more was reaching the targeted population. More than other aid systems, Zimbabwe’s was designed to prevent leakage. Upon their arrival, as the food crisis was unfolding, specially trained emergency relief workers found a highly charged political situation. Tensions ran high between the government and its political opponents as well as between the government and major international donors. The donor community was worried that local politics would impinge on the functioning of the relief program.67 Given this environment, these specialists gave particular attention to depoliticizing the international aid effort and controlling aid flows.

Nonetheless, diversion and manipulation are a problem. In 2002, a year of elections, politicians, organized groups of war veterans, members, ZANU PF party youth, youth militias tried, in a number of well-publicized incidents, to use relief aid for their own ends. In fact, the WFP suspended distribution of aid in Matabeleland North a week before the presidential election “to prevent politicians from using the food for political purposes.”68

In April, the MDC complained that the government manipulated food aid in a number of constituencies, and met with the WFP about the problem.69 Events that followed seemed to justify the MDC’s concern. In June 2002, the local Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) fed 40,000 children, but the program closed after the Minister of Local Government, ordered CCJP to disband it because its structures paralleled those of government. War veterans halted operations, and children at 17 pre-schools and 34 schools were deprived of food. Several weeks later, feeding resumed without the involvement of CCJP. Save the Children UK (SCF UK) initially encountered no problems from the government and was “able to negotiate with the local authorities and [distribute] without political interference.”70 But, in Binga, after the MDC won the local council elections, war veterans groups accused SCF UK of being “a front for British intelligence” and closed down its program for several weeks. After several months, during which no alternative program was operating, SCF UK and the government re-negotiated their Memorandum of Understanding and the agency restarted operations.71 These incidents suggest the breadth of control that ZANU PF tries to maintain over food supplies. In the latter case, the closing of the program immediately following MDC victory also served as a reprimand to the community for voting against ZANU PF. This incident was well publicized and it is likely that this action also served as a warning to other communities not to support the MDC.

In the middle of the year, the head of USAID publicly complained about politicization of aid and James Morris, Executive Director of the WFP, raised the issue with Mr. Mugabe, who assured him that he “would tell the world that there would be no political favoritism or disincentives.”72 But within the month there were reports that the ZANU PF Member of Parliament for Beitbridge “bullied and threatened” World Vision employees distributing food, telling them they were there at the invitation of the government and had to follow government directives. World Vision stood firm, arguing that it would “distribute food to those people [identified as needy], irrespective of what political statements were made.”73

Responding to these and other reports, in July the Executive Director of the WFP again met the President and told him that the WFP “would be out of the country in a second” if it encountered difficulties in delivering food. Mr. Morris said he delivered his message that food aid should not be politicized to Mr. Mugabe three times that month.74 WPF Regional Director for Southern and Eastern Africa, Judith Lewis, provided more detail: “We have a zero tolerance policy for any type of food being used as any type of weapon, let alone a political weapon…. [We are] very strict. The NGOs that we work with go through an extensive training … We have had one or two incidents where it has been a problem … [but] we follow up immediately if there is a problem and we are prepared to take the steps necessary to ensure the integrity of the food.”75

In spite of these assurances, some local NGO workers complain that the WFP fails to monitor events on the ground closely enough to stop the regular politicization of aid. Local aid workers suggest that while the overwhelming majority of politicization cases involve GMB grain, misuse of international aid does happen and that it usually occurs during beneficiary registration.76

A mother of nine children reported that she “tried repeatedly during 2002 to get on to WFP feeding lists and was told by the local community leaders responsible for drawing up lists that she was not eligible as she was [a member of the] MDC. The kraal head… came to her home and told her she had to surrender her MDC cards if she wanted to benefit from … donor food.”77 Similarly, in Midlands ten MDC supporters were “called out by name and forced to leave the meeting” held to revise the list of beneficiaries for donor food. “This was done by ZANU PF officials before the arrival of the WFP officials.” In Masvingo district, “some households are reported to be omitted from the relief lists by their village heads” while in the Midlands, “one site reports political bias in making up beneficiary lists.”78

Such cases are unlikely to come directly to the attention of NGOs or the WFP. The WFP does not have the capacity to monitor registration processes in every village and therefore the WFP may not hear of complaints. Those complaints that do reach the WFP are usually the higher profile incidents and are communicated through local NGOs.79 Moreover, the WFP and its partner NGOs are aware that the current monitoring is inadequate and that relief food is being manipulated for political ends. They are therefore trying to combat these problems. They do this by working with the government and local NGOs to target districts and communities in need. Village relief committees are then created. These committees are comprised of villagers, including women, who are elected by the community. Importantly, these are not the same as the government’s Food Distribution Committees, which are made up of officials and local authorities.

The relief committees select beneficiaries according to set criteria, and the WFP’s partner NGOs check the lists of beneficiaries at public meetings with the local communities, where the criteria for selection are discussed. Beneficiaries are also told their “entitlement” (i.e., the type and amount of food they will receive), how people are selected, how many people will receive aid, and when and where food will be disbursed. At these meetings, the NGOs explain that food aid is not political business and that no one should wear political-party T-shirts or “party regalia” to a distribution site or try to turn the distribution process into a political event. No campaigning or “sloganeering” is permitted at the sites. Local people are then appointed to carry out the distribution under the supervision of NGO staff and the WFP. Women are involved in distribution as leaders and “scoopers”, which tends to reduce unfair practices generally. Some NGOs have gone on to introduce “complaint committees” at distribution sites, where people who are unhappy about targeting and disbursement may register their grievances. These will be investigated and changes made accordingly. Post-distribution monitoring also takes place. Monitors look for “errors of commission and omission” by visiting villages and talking to people about distributions, wealth indicators, vulnerability, etc.

During the by-election campaign in Insiza in October 2002, the Organisation of Rural Associations for Progress (ORAP), a local NGO, distributed food, but found that ZANU PF politicians wanted to use the distribution site to give political speeches. When MDC members saw this they wanted to give speeches too, and then ZANU PF youth became involved. ORAP tried to move locations but the ZANU PF youth followed, confiscated 3 MT of maize, and distributed it to their supporters. As a result, the WFP halted distributions in that area for six weeks. “Relief food distributions are not the place for any kind of political activity,” the WFP’s Country Director stated. “[The] WFP will only distribute its food on the basis of need and without regard to partisan affiliations.”80 UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan supported the agency’s stance, appealing to the Zimbabwe government to hold firm to its commitment to ensure that political considerations did not affect food aid efforts within the country.81

Human Rights Watch received a number of reports that indicated that local authorities registered people for relief food, resulting in politically biased lists that favored ZANU PF supporters and excluded actual or presumed supporters of the MDC. In response to these and other reports, the donors pressed the implementing NGOs to re-validate their registers in August 2002. NGOs did a sample survey as requested, redoing the beneficiary lists where necessary. Interviews with relief workers and UN officials indicated that not long after the survey the number of people needing food increased, and many who were left off the old lists were included on the new registers, helping reduce the number of complaints about politicization.82

In response to the need for closer coordination of the food aid program, in October 2001 the UNDP established the Relief and Recovery Unit (RRU). The RRU, under the leadership of the UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator, coordinates the international response to the food security crisis. In December 2001, the RRU implemented that Humanitarian Assistance and Recovery Plan to monitor and coordinate the UN country team's programs. Under the Plan, the RRU provides regular humanitarian situation reports; liaises with donors; coordinates and tracks donations; facilitates relations between the humanitarian community and the government to enhance a shared understanding of the food crisis and to ease operational problems; develops contingency plans; coordinates vulnerability assessments for the country team; and develops programs to assist internally displaced people. Towards the end of 2002, the RRU's mandate was expanded to include data gathering and processing, coordinating inter-sectoral and IDP issues, and planning for the recovery phase of the emergency.83 The RRU's field offices and its ‘validation unit’ monitor the use of food aid, but at the time of writing, the government had closed the field offices, claiming that the proper registration procedures had not been followed.84

Also concerned with the growing crisis and the misuse of food aid, local NGOs formed a consortium in March 2002 to share their experiences and resources: the National NGO Food Security Network, or FOSENET. Network representatives monitor food distributions throughout the whole country, and produce regular reports.85

As suggested in the preceding discussion, there have been increasing reports and mounting evidence that government and ZANU PF officials have tried to manipulate international relief food to strengthen the ZANU PF and intimidate the MDC. Yet, ZANU PF claims that food is used by the NGOs to favor the MDC, which is why, for instance, the ZANU PF stepped in and temporarily closed down the Binga relief programs. The government blames MDC supporters, especially shopkeepers and millers, for shortages on the shelves, although last year it rejected the MDC’s request for a permit to import food to distribute nationally. The government accuses shopkeepers of profiteering and of hoarding food to encourage price increases.86 Such claims are infrequent and not well documented.

Politicization of the Government Food Program

The government’s grain importation and distribution program is widely criticized for political bias; lack of transparency and accountability; and excessive levels of corruption and mismanagement. There have also been many complaints of violence and intimidation by war veterans, ZANU PF youth, youth brigade members, and the politicians who organize food distributions. The program operates outside the long-standing National Drought Management structure, which is comprised of officials and technical staff from the village level to the Vice President’s office. Instead, the program is managed by the newly created Task Force on Maize Distribution, also known as the Food Committee. The Food Committee is chaired by the Minister of State for Security who answers directly to Mr. Mugabe’s “war cabinet”.87 It is based at the Grain Marketing Board, comprised of representatives from the police and defense forces, the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), and various ministries. And, in keeping with the enhanced role of the military in government in recent years, retired and active senior military officers play key roles on the Food Committee and in the operation and management of the GMB.88

The Food Committee is mandated to import maize and sell it domestically at a subsidized price. The Committee channels maize from the GMB to traditional leaders (chiefs and headmen) who collect money from their people and take charge of delivery and distribution. It also channels maize to Committee-selected millers89 who should then provide flour directly to outlets, such as shops, for sale at low set prices.90

The Food Committee also oversees provincial and district food committees, which are chaired by provincial and district administrators, and include rural district council members, chiefs, army officers, war veterans, police, and CIO officials.91 The provincial and district food committees evaluate the extent of need in their areas; determine the amount of grain to sell to individuals; and distribute maize weekly at depots and other selling points.92

Politicization of the GMB program appears at all levels. However, differentiating between profit motivated and politically motivated practices is difficult. It is also unclear to what degree and across what levels politicization is coordinated or undertaken individually. The following activities should be considered in this context.

At the highest level, large quantities of grain are diverted. In early 2003, ZIMVAC reported that the calculations it made comparing national GMB imports and local deliveries of GMB maize did not add up. In the course of less than a year, ZIMVAC and a SADC assessment committee could not account for more than two hundred thousand metric tons of maize. In December 2002, they reported:

Distribution of GMB imports at the community level is inconsistent with reported imports at the national level. For the time period April 1, 2002 to December 1, 2002 total maize available from domestic availability, GMB imports and food aid was 1.3 mil MT. The requirement for this time period was 1.1 mil MT, indicating a surplus of 200,000 MT at the national level. At sub-national level, however, availability of a wide range of basic commodities continues to be limited. Forty percent of the communities visited reported that cereals were ‘not or rarely’ available from the GMB and/or market. Other indicators…. support the conclusion that cereal is extremely unavailable at the community level, despite reported national numbers indicating a surplus. This discrepancy between reported import levels at the national level and community availability of cereals warrants further investigation. 93

Many of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch in February-March 2003 agreed that the availability of GMB maize had declined. As a result, people turned to the more expensive black market to buy grain and other staple items. (In February 2003, twenty kilograms of maize cost Z$4000 on the black market, half or three-quarters of a domestic worker’s monthly wage.) In some areas, GMB maize was unavailable for two months at a time, and people ate rice and potatoes instead of sadza (the staple maize porridge).94 According to one UN official interviewed by HRW, the GMB brought in more food than expected in 2002 and it reached the districts; every ward supposedly received its share, though people waited six weeks between GMB deliveries. Now, not enough food is reaching the districts and people must wait three to four months.95

Observers have found indications that some of the grain that is purportedly imported into Zimbabwe never actually reaches the country,96 though where it goes no one is sure. Regional price differentials (the price is much higher further north), reports of other items (e.g., sugar) being illegally shipped out of Zimbabwe in large quantities, and evidence of surplus maize in neighboring countries suggest that some grain is diverted to Zambia, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.97 Diverting maize on such a large scale requires well-developed transport and financial networks, as well as managerial and organizational capacity.

It is also likely that missing maize is sold on Zimbabwe’s flourishing black market. Combined and depending on the province, GMB maize, relief maize, and household harvests typically account for only one-half of a person’s grain needs.98 Necessity drives people to the black market and enables suppliers to reap a hefty profit. Numerous reports indicate that some ZANU PF politicians, merchants, millers and other businessmen, with close connections to officials at the GMB, are involved in the black market.99 An NGO manager told Human Rights Watch that GMB food is supposed to go to local millers and after it is milled, it should go to retailers for sale to the local population. Instead, grain goes to millers, who get it at Z$9,000 per MT. from the GMB and sell it to black marketeers for Z$4,000 for 20 kg, or Z$200,000 per MT.100 Sometimes it makes it to the shops, but it can be diverted there as well. “The ‘big fish’ are involved,” said one MDC activist. “For instance, in the OK Bazaars supermarket you cannot find sugar, but it is for sale outside the front door. Police come and go and never arrest the people selling sugar illegally. The only way it gets there is for OK shopkeepers to sell it to black market people outside their door.”101

ZANU PF politicians running for office may also receive diverted GMB maize. ZANU PF politicians often sell maize to supporters at low prices. “Food is now a very big campaign tool for ZANU PF,”102 stated one human rights activist. During a by-election campaign in Highfield (a Harare constituency) last year, 10 and 20 kg bags of maize were delivered to ZANU PF local offices. As the news spread, people descended on the offices where the police, members of the youth brigade,103 and the party youth took control of the crowd. The press reported that “the youths ordered the people to queue according to their ZANU PF branches, while party officials clutching lists with the names of members collected money to pay for the maize meal.”104

A similar incident took place in Zengeza in Harare in October: 10 and 20 kg packages of mealie meal were sold to supporters who reportedly ‘were asked to submit [their] names to local ZANU PF branch leaders’ the week before. Proof of eligibility was a ZANU party card. The Kuwadzana by-election was held in March 2003. There, ZANU PF candidate, David Mutasa was widely accused of providing GMB maize to people with ZANU PF cards. Again the MDC complained: “people must not be manipulated by a few bags of election food because of their empty stomachs.”105 In an interview with Human Rights Watch, one MDC politician stated, “A mayoral election will be held in Gweru later and already maize is stored there. Mike Auret [an MDC politician] is giving up his parliamentary seat in Harare, and already they are selling [grain] via ZANU.”106

Whether or not such grain is part of the missing 200,000 MT remains unclear. Figures coming from the government and the GMB are incomplete, making an accurate accounting of the government’s food program impossible. In fact, the lack of hard and detailed data about GMB imports and distribution is one of the donors’ main complaints. Lack of information about the timing and amount of food sent to districts and outlets inhibits collaboration and cooperation between the two programs, which can contribute to some needy communities and individuals being over-looked while others are over-supplied. It also makes planning difficult. Donors, required to supply relief aid in ever-larger quantities as the economy, agricultural production, and GMB supplies shrink, highlight the need for improved transparency and accountability. 107

Ordinary Zimbabweans can differentiate between the current GMB program and a more even-handed relief effort. Several people explained to Human Rights Watch how the current food program is different from the one implemented due to 1992 drought, under which “food flowed freely.” The reason, one elderly man said, was because the situation in Zimbabwe changed in 2000: since then the “government has become partisan.”108 A professional woman agreed: the situation was not as “politicalized” even two years ago during the flood relief. And in previous droughts it was “much, much different.” For one thing, the old commercial farmers provided food to the people, who could buy it. Also relief food had “nothing to do with politics [and] people did not go without food. The atmosphere was different. [Then it] was all for one and one for all. [Now it is] survival of the fittest.”109

Previous methods of accessing maize have broken down. Millers who are not sufficiently supportive of ZANU PF cannot get maize to mill and sell because “the government only gives maize to loyal millers.” Moreover, a person needs a ZANU PF party card to buy food from a miller since ZANU PF people tell shopkeepers how and to whom they must sell their maize. As a result, some shopkeepers “fear getting food” because there are so many problems associated with it.110 Another urban resident, a gardener, told Human Rights Watch that in his experience, GMB maize goes to the millers, but it never makes it to the shops at the government’s set price. The last time he managed to get 20kg of GMB maize was at a distribution site set up at St Katherine’s School in Harare, where he paid an inflated price (Z$700) for it. ZANU PF youth distributed the maize, he said, and he had to show his ZANU PF card to get it. When relief maize is unavailable he turns to the black market, where, in early 2003, twenty kilograms of maize cost Z$6,000-7,000 but a ZANU card was not required to purchase it. As for set-price maize sold in shops, “there has been none for some time.”111

In the villages, the headman is responsible for organizing the supply and distribution of GMB maize. According to the process established by the GMB, the headman would collect money from his people and go to the GMB to buy the maize, which a respondent said once sold for Z$580 for a 50 kg bag. But as supplies have diminished, this procedure no longer works. One respondent explained that in his village, someone goes to the GMB, purchases maize, and then breaks the larger sacks into little pails of grain and sells them to people at high prices.112

Interviews reveal the process of politicization of the food system: the GMB Food Committee decides where maize is to be milled, and millers have no voice about where it is sent after that. Millers may only decide how to distribute to their own staff. The GMB allocates maize meal to shops and other buyers. Buyers use lists, created by local ZANU PF councilors. Where the MDC is in charge of a council, the ZANU party structure draws up the lists, without MDC input. The lists are used to distribute grain to loyalists.113 One informant explained that in Mashonaland West, a ZANU PF area, those in charge “may steal four-fifths of it. But they will sell you 5 kg or so.” It is under the control of youth, she continued, and you cannot register for food if you are not a member of the party. “No ZANU card, no mealie meal.”114 Another noted that in Mutoko, his mother and others, whom he said no longer support ZANU PF, “are buying party cards for security, because to get GMB maize you have to have a party card.” Therefore “you buy the card, you pay the money, nothing else will do…. You can’t refuse. If you refuse you get no maize. [The card] is a must in the rural areas.” 115

Groups specifically targeted by ZANU PF officials have particular difficulty gaining access to GMB maize. Two local activists reminded Human Rights Watch that the government’s use of food as a weapon is neither new nor rare. “Almost every village” reports political interference, especially with regard to GMB maize, one said.116 The other noted that the same thing happened in Matabeleland against ZAPU people during the 1984 drought.117 As part of a widening problem, ex-commercial farm workers, teachers, and MDC activists struggle for grain access. Other suspects include urban residents (many of whom voted for the MDC), and locals of Matebeleland.118

Accessing maize on the ex-commercial farms is a “complicated issue” for some residents, one NGO worker explained to Human Rights Watch. Food distribution is handled on each farm by a “council of seven,” on which three guaranteed seats include: a war veterans representative, a youth representative, and a ZANU-PF Women’s League representative.119 A human rights worker explained that the local leadership, the council of seven, acquires the maize and gives it to ZANU PF supporters and members. Farm workers cannot access this maize, which is given “courtesy of ZANU PF.” Because many farm workers have opposed the fast-track land reform process, ZANU PF considers them “enemies of the state.”120 According to a third informant, it is so difficult for farm workers to obtain GMB maize that, even though they have nowhere else to go, some of these workers are leaving the old white farming areas.121

MDC activists tell similar stories. One young woman said she fled Muzerabani because of her political views. She “went to the GMB several times but was refused [grain] by the authorities” on every occasion. She could not complain to the headman because he belonged to ZANU PF and worked with the war veterans. With no donor food in her area, she came into Harare for assistance.122 At Waterfalls, in Harare, another MDC activist faced a serious dilemma: when he sent his wife to buy GMB food without a party card, she could not access it. But attempting to obtain new party cards draws suspicion from ZANU PF leaders. The leaders in Waterfalls would ask her for a letter from the head of ZANU PF in her home village, which she could not produce. They had no choice but to buy grain on the black market.123 To forestall such a problem, one prescient Harare resident explained that she deliberately bought her ZANU PF card right after the referendum, when she could see that having it would offer her some sort of protection. She now carries it everywhere and uses it to get GMB maize.124 But, sometimes, even having a card is not enough. In some places, one must appear “very active” and pro-ZANU PF (willingly attending rallies, joining the local ZANU PF women’s or youth group, etc.) to access food.125

Distributors often see teachers as opposition too. A teachers’ union organizer explained to Human Rights Watch that one way to “make sure people are not part of the opposition is food.” The current scarcity of maize makes it easier to politicize the food, and control the opposition. Teachers and other people used to be able to go to town and buy food, but now it is not available. And, teachers and others who earn a wage do not qualify for relief maize. Therefore, they are forced to look for food in the rural areas near where they teach. There, GMB maize “distribution is done by the [ZANU PF] party functionaries” so one must have a party card to get food. This system forces teachers to buy party cards to access maize. Buying cards to access maize is “pretty prevalent,” he added. Even when teachers manage to purchase some maize, they may face discrimination. One teacher in Matabeleland South managed to buy a sack of GMB maize, but when local ZANU PF authorities identified him as a teacher, they took it from him. Some teachers in Wedza in Mashonaland East report that to get food student teachers must trade sex with war veterans for GMB grain.126

People manage to circumvent the politicized system of distribution in a number of ways. “The whole thing started when I joined the MDC” in 1999, a grandmother in a provincial town explained. Authorities destroyed her house and beat her. Even today “it is not safe to move freely.” When asked if the government allows her to collect GMB maize, she said “they don’t like to see my face” so she sent a friend to get it for her. But, “corrupt youth” sell maize in a “racket”, she explained. After she confronted the racketeers, and paid a Z$100 bribe, they added her name to a ward distribution list.127 Her friend, another elderly woman activist, said that as an MDC member she is also unable to access GMB maize, but her friends on the local ZANU PF committee get it for her.128 Another MDC activist agreed: he cannot buy maize from the GMB: “They do not want to see us [MDC members].” So, he asked someone else to buy GMB maize for him under that person’s name.129

The government’s cash-for-work program and its agricultural inputs program appear similarly politicized. For instance, one old MDC supporter east of Harare explained that cash-for-work is available in his area but “only for ZANU supporters.” “If you join and they find out that you are MDC they will beat you. Generally it is the local councilors who select who can work on public works projects,” he said, “and they only select ZANU supporters.”130 Another man complained to a government official about a similar situation:

[During] the planting season of 2002 the government gave people seeds for planting through Chiefs and Headman, people were written down [and] each village had its own list of villagers. Mr. K [name provided] struck off Mr. M [name provided] from the list on the grounds that Mr. M was an MDC party member. In the current Drought Relief Program, where families buy subsidized maize from the GMB, Mr. K again cancelled M’s name from the list…. Before these sad incidents, Mr. M’s property i.e., granary and chickens, had been burned for what was suspected to be politically motivated [reasons].131

Reporting to Human Rights Watch, people indicate that they have no recourse when they have been deprived of access to GMB maize or food from other programs. A Harare resident explained that the current situation differed greatly from the troubles in 1992, when “[there] was no sabotage.” According to this resident, in 1992, village headmen, chiefs and police did not steal or politicize the food and one could go to the police for help. But, “nowadays you cannot, they won’t help you…. The police are the same as the chiefs” in their loyalties and activities. “Complaints draw suspicions of membership in the MDC, causing trouble. No one complains to police, chiefs or village headmen. People remain silent.”132 An MDC activist concurred: when her husband died and she wanted to bury him, she went to get maize meal (to hold a traditional funeral feast for relatives and friends) from the GMB. The GMB refused to give her grain, so she had a friend go to the GMB for her. The GMB refused to sell her grain when she mentioned the activist’s name. When Human Rights Watch asked why she did not complain about this treatment, she said that if one complains, “you will have sold yourself” (i.e., identified yourself as MDC). The District Administrator, who would receive complaints, is also the local head of ZANU PF. Therefore, MDC members “only try to help each other.”133

Politicization of Aid in the Ex-commercial Farming Areas

Conditions in the ex-commercial farm areas cause increasing humanitarian concern. As noted previously, the population in these areas consists of two groups: (1) new settlers, comprised of war veterans, ZANU PF youth, ex-communal farmers and others, and (2) ex-commercial farm workers and their families. Currently, little international food aid134 reaches commercial farm areas, despite government’s and international agencies’ awareness that people are unable to access GMB easily. There are significant logistical difficulties involved in providing relief to these areas, but one of the main issues is the policy of several donors not to give aid to farmers who were resettled under the fast-track land reform programs. For example, FCTZ, a local NGO funded by the UK’s Department for International Development and the WFP, is mandated to provide relief to only ex-farm workers and not to aid newly settled farmers. Though, they do not differentiate between children who show up to be fed.135

Until the government completes its survey of nutritional status and vulnerability, it is impossible to assess the number of vulnerable people in these areas, the severity of their food insecurity, or their nutritional status. We do know that many farm workers find it difficult to access GMB food because the government considers them anti-ZANU PF; that few have been able to acquire land under the fast-track program; and that few have access to plots in the communal areas. And without other work, those workers who received retrenchment packets from white ex-commercial farmers are quickly spending them. At the same time, the newly settled farmers and war veterans who have money struggle to buy grain because GMB supplies are in short supply. Those who have no cash simply cannot obtain food. Finally, insufficient government investment in fertilizer and seeds for the resettled farms has hurt settlers’ efforts to produce sufficient food for themselves. Food insecurity on some of the old commercial farms may prove worse than in the communal areas and cities.

Some food aid trickles into the ex-commercial farm areas through FCTZ, the Farm Orphans Trust of Zimbabwe, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, but pressure is mounting on the international aid regime to expand into these areas to feed and assist both farm workers and newly settled people. In May, the government declared the whole country, including the resettled areas, to be in a “state of disaster.”136 Thus, given the “no aid” policy for new settlers, donors and relief agencies face a dilemma that is directly related to the issue of politicization of relief food: The farm workers are clearly in need, but it would be operationally impossible for relief agencies to differentiate between settlers and farm workers. First, feeding farm workers on a large scale, while continuing to exclude settlers, would exacerbate tensions between the two communities, and might even cause violence. Second, any international aid program would struggle to ensure that food reached its intended beneficiaries. “The problem of working in the ex-commercial farming areas is that there are no traditional authorities to work through or to identify the needed,” one local relief official explained. “You need legitimate traditional leaders to help with the aid program. The ‘committee of seven’ on the farms are ‘highly politicized’ [see above] and inappropriate for agencies to work through.”137 Besides these logistical issues, donors must also consider that new settlers probably need food aid too and should abide by their obligations as parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by depoliticizing food aid, and conditioning its distribution only on need. The GMB cannot provide enough maize for even those who have money. Without money, settlers simply cannot get food.

Most international aid workers would provide food to both communities. One senior international relief official commented, “our food assistance is never conditional, never will be”138 On the other hand, some international political officials have not yet made up their minds and they have been able to hold off making a decision about whether to feed one or both of these communities because there has been no hard data available on the extent of need in the ex-commercial farm areas.139 One UN official explained that some foreign ambassadors are having a hard time agreeing to assist these ex-commercial farm areas and the idea to do so would “not go down well” in the UK or EU Parliaments or in the American Congress.140 In addition, some Zimbabwean organizations, especially those currently assisting victims of ZANU PF youth and the government’s security forces, find the notion of assisting new settlers unacceptable.141

International donors and agencies sat down with the Zimbabwe government in April 2003 to draw up a new unified set of “humanitarian principles” that would govern relief efforts and would be binding on all parties. While a memorandum of understanding was drafted, the government has not adopted it. If the MOU were adopted, its principles would presumably affect relief efforts in the ex-commercial farm areas as well as the rest of the country. One senior aid official commented in March 2003:

The problem is, the principles may “come back” on the donors. NGOs have raised the issue of feeding the new settlers, those on resettled farms, which is the “heartland” of the GMB food program. Agencies and donors must now decide whether to provide relief to these new settlers or not. If they do not, this would be politicization of aid of a different type, and against the new set of principles being written. At the same the EU, UK and US are uncomfortable feeding these new settlers, though some aid is reaching them quietly. They tell the implementing agency, “just don’t tell us about the leaky program.” Even the UN is reluctant to feed them. But this new set of principles cuts both ways. It’s an ethical issue.142

According to one UN official, however, the UN does recognize the plight of the resettled farmers and is not opposed in principle to aiding these people. But before the UN can provide relief, the level of need in these areas and the populations in greatest need must be determined. The official explained: “Right now district officials are going to identify vulnerability and numbers and tell WFP how much maize is going into the districts. A lot of people on the farms were promised things falsely, and moved there under false pretences. They are victims too. Now there is government pressure to get aid agencies and the UN to feed these people. The point of entry for the UN is vulnerability.”143

Limited information on need in these areas is available. Some agencies have undertaken independent assessments of the conditions of ex-farm workers. The Norwegian Refugee Council’s profile of internally displaced people in Zimbabwe included displaced farm workers. The Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe completed a survey of farm workers in May 2003 and ZIMVAC continues to collect information on farm worker vulnerability. Data from these surveys is being used to encourage donors to support expanding WFP and NGO programs into the former commercial farm areas.

The question of whether to feed and ultimately to provide farming inputs (such as seeds, fertilizer, capital equipment, technical assistance, etc) to the people on the ex-commercial farms brings into focus the complexities of food distribution in Zimbabwe. How can the government reform the GMB program to make it fairer and more effective? Without transparency, accountability, and a clean sweep of corrupt officials, the GMB and the Food Committee will likely continue to operate for political gain and personal profit. And, so long as members of the government and ZANU PF use GMB food for political ends, the program’s coverage will not improve. Shortages will remain, people will have little choice but to continue to use the black market, and international relief assistance will be needed.

The rift between the donor community and government will more easily be healed when the Zimbabwe government undertakes these reforms. Healing this rift must be a priority for humanitarian reasons, if not for political ones. In August 2003, the Zimbabwe government declared that local authorities would oversee the distribution of donated food. Although the government then rescinded this statement, donors expressed increased concern over food aid manipulation, which threatens to impinge upon their continued support for relief efforts.144 Since then, the WFP and the Zimbabwe government were able to reach agreement that food aid would continue to be distributed by local NGOs and “solely on the basis of need.”145 The two parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding on September 25, 2003. This agreement signals a step forward and may facilitate renewed donor support for WFP programs. But, the Memorandum must not be viewed as a guarantee against continued politicization. It applies only to UN-affiliated relief efforts. And, it apparently addresses neither the highly problematic registration process nor the expansion of relief into ex-commercial farm areas.

67 Human Rights Watch interviews with UN officials, February 27, 2003; with donor officials, February 21 and 25, 2003 and NGO staff, February 24, 2003. One respondent explained that when the relief specialists arrived, they wondered “why are you development people are so uptight about politicization” of food aid? What is happening here, they said, is similar to other emergency situations: diversion and corruption are “part of the noise of the aid system.” They said that agencies in Harare are “trying to operate at levels of tolerance” unlike anywhere else. Another informant added that “its not that there is no politicization, or would be none, its just that the donor and NGO groups have taken active steps to halt it, otherwise it would happen.”

68 Loughty Dube, Augustine Mukaro, “WFP resumes food distribution,” The Zimbabwe Independent, March 28, 2003.

69Zanu PF hijacks food aid distribution from WFP,” The Zimbabwe Independent, April 12, 2002. The local NGO, ORAP, reported that “some groups [reportedly war veterans] wanted to hijack the program in Umsingwane district for political reasons.”

70ZIMBABWE: Feeding scheme resumed,” IRIN News, July 29, 2002.

71 Human Rights Watch interviews with NGO staff, February 24, 2003 and UN officials, February 27, 2003.

72US offers more food for S. Africa,” Associated Press, June 11, 2002.

73 “ZIMBABWE: Caution urged over food politicisation claims,” IRIN News, July 23, 2002. The Member of Parliament later said he’d been quoted out of context and “we do not want ZANU (PF) or MDC to take advantage of this [USAID/World Vision] program. We are here to feed the nation and not a section of the nation.” World Vision statement press statement, August 2, 2002.

74UN warns Mugabe not to meddle with food aid,” Financial Times (UK), July 12, 2002; “U.S. accuses Zimbabwe of political use of food aid,” Reuters, July 11, 2002; and Tim Butcher, “Mugabe opponents' children 'starving',The Daily Telegraph (UK), July 12, 2002.

75 “SOUTHERN AFRICA: Interview with WFP regional director Judith Lewis,” IRIN News, July 3, 2002.

76 National NGO Food Security Network (FOSENET), Assessment of the Food Situation in Zimbabwe December 2002/January 2003, pp. 12.

77 Physicians for Human Rights, Demark, Vote ZANU-PF or Starve, Zimbabwe: August to October 2002, November 20, 2002, pp. 26.

78 Ibid.

79 Human Rights Watch interviews with UN officials, February 27, 2003 and March 1, 2003, with local NGO worker, February 24, 2003, and international aid worker, March 3, 2003.

80 Human Rights Watch interviews with UN staff, February 25, 2003; “Food distribution in Insiza still suspended,” The Daily News, November 20, 2002 and Physicians for Human Rights, Denmark, November 20, 2002, pp. 18, citing the WFP Country Director. Though WFP thought it took a strong stance, local activists feel that it should have been more resolute. One local NGO director (Human Rights Watch interview, February 25, 2003) noted about this incident, for instance, the donors “have not created a united front on food aid.” WFP says there will be “zero tolerance” but the local WFP office said it “is only three tonnes” of food. What they and the NGOs should have done, he said, was stopped feeding the whole country and this would have sent a strong signal to the government that politicians cannot interfere with feeding. It took SCF UK months to resolve the Binga problem, he added, because they had to fight that battle alone. If all NGOs had stood with SCF UK, the problem would have been solved more quickly.

81 William M. Reilly, “UN endorses food aid policy in Zimbabwe,” The Washington Times, November 14, 2002.

82 Human Rights Watch interviews with NGO staff, February 24, 2003; with senior international relief official, February 21, 2003; and with UN officials, February 27 2003.

83 Email to Human Rights Watch from anonymous source: The work of the UN Relief and recovery Unit – Zimbabwe, August 31, 2003.

84 “Zimbabwe: UN forced to close provincial field offices,” IRIN News, September 2, 2003.

85 FOSENET comprises 24 organizations, which together have staff in all districts. They monitor food needs, availability and access to food, and abuses related to food.

86 “Zimbabwe blocks food relief,SABC News, September 2, 2002 and “ZIMBABWE: Opposition accused of creating food crisis,” IRIN News, July 5, 2002.

87 The “war cabinet” was appointed in August 2002. The Zimbabwe ZBC called it “a fully fledged war council set to fight the country’s economic problems…. [and] a political war cabinet which will take into account the actions being taken by Britain and its allies against Zimbabwe.” Cited by l’Agence France-Presse (AFP), “Zimbabwe ‘war cabinet’ sworn in”,, August 26, 2002.

88 Human Rights Watch interview, March 5, 2003.

89 In large milling companies, there are individuals answerable to the Food Committee that ensure mealie meal and flour are delivered as directed. Human Rights Watch interview with John Robertson, February 26, 2003, and with MDC official, March 5, 2003. Control of milling appears to be important to the government. One economist asserted that government forces bakers to sell bread cheap, and harasses owners so that ZANU businessmen can buy their companies at a fraction of their value. Human Rights Watch interview with Peter Robinson, March 4, 2003. Regarding provincial millers, Eddie Cross of the MDC wrote, in Beitbridge “we have seen the sole miller (all other mills were closed some time ago by the ZANU PF) operating in this center [who] is instructed to sell his total output to ‘War Veterans’ and ‘Border Gezi Youth’. The maize is coming from the Grain Marketing Board and the milled product is packed and then loaded onto trucks under the control of Zanu PF militia.” “The Use of Food as a Political Weapon”, Memorandum by EG Cross, 18 Oct 2002.

90 Regarding the composition and role of the Food Committee, Human Rights Watch interviews, February 28 and March 5, 2003, and information supplied via emails, March 26 and May 13, 2003. See also “ZIMBABWE: Government sets up task force to tackle food shortages,” IRIN News, July 11, 2001.

91 Ibid.

92 Where the MDC now controls local government, efforts have been made to force the task force to be transparent and accountable. SeeNtungamili Nkomo, “Mayor Slams Food Distribution,” The Daily News, December 4, 2002 re. Bulawayo.

93 ZIMVAC and the SADC FANR Vulnerability Assessment Committee, December 20, 2002, pp. 5. For commentary see “200 000t Maize Vanishes,” Financial Gazette (Zimbabwe), February 6-12, 2003 and “ZIMBABWE: Reality of food shortages inconsistent with official figures,” IRIN News, February 6, 2003. Government said that the maize was in stuck in the ports or in transit, but lack of government transparency made this claim difficult to substantiate. Human Rights Watch interview, February 24, 2003. A donor official explained that some maize is sold in South Africa to pay for transport, which reduces the amount actually imported. Therefore, he said, “we don’t know, even the government doesn’t know” how much is missing. There is hording, corruption, cross border sales, etc., but “we have no figures.” The GMB provided a sheet of figures to donors recently, but “do you believe it? There is no way to know” how accurate it is. Human Rights Watch interview with donor official, February 25, 2003.

94 Human Rights Watch interview, local NGO senior staff, February 26, 2003.

95 Human Rights Watch interview, UN official, February 27, 2003.

96 The UN has staff at the ports facilitating its own imports, and they are aware of the amount of grain reaching South Africa and Mozambique bound for Zimbabwe. They can compare those figures with the amount imported across the Zimbabwe border. Human Rights Watch interview with UN staff, February 27, 2003. As tendering procedures for importing grain are weak, some grain ordered and paid for may never be delivered. For one such case concerning 100,000 MT, see Augustine Mukaro, “GMB Loses US$20m in Grain Deal,” The Zimbabwe Independent, March 14, 2003.

97 Human Rights Watch interview with international NGO staff, February 24, 2003.

98 ZIMVAC, Estimate of Food Availability by Province & Urban Areas, February-October 2002, n.d. shows that people in Matabeleland North had only 22 percent of its grain needs met by GMB maize, relief maize and own production. For Harare and Bulawayo that figure was 89 percent.

99 Typically, ‘we cannot purchase maize at GMB … [but] mealie meal is available if you are prepared to pay 3-6 times the price … from a number of sources…. The GMB system works if you use the services of some important War Vet or any appropriately politically well placed official and you pay a fee. There is a cartel operating that is comprised of a number of politically correct people and Government officials who are ensuring that a certain amount of maize goes on the black market. They are all doing well financially from this get-rich program’. Letter sent from TC Ballance, Mugwezi Ranching to District Administrator, Chiredzi, November 25, 2002.

100 Human Rights Watch interview, local NGO senior staff, February 26, 2003. He went on to finish the story: because of government controls, farmers have to sell their maize at a set price to GMB at $30,000/tonne, though they could sell it on the open market for $100,000 or more. Since they are not allowed to do so, they wonder, why grow it?

101 Human Rights Watch interview, MDC activist and ex-teacher, March 3, 2003.

102 Human Rights Watch interview, human rights activist, February 24, 2003.

103 The newest group of state enforcers is the National Youth Service, sometimes called the Border Gezi youth, the youth brigade, or the “green bombers” (because of the color of their uniforms), It was created in 2000. National Service youth are recruited by government, which promises them food and shelter, excitement and political purpose (“the new chimurenga”), and training and jobs. Indeed, government has told young people they cannot go for post-graduate training (e.g., to become teachers or nurses) without going through the National Youth They are involved in all aspects of life: managing fuel and bread queues, halting buses and checking for party cards, distributing food, etc. Their training consists of “elements of patriotism, discipline, and paramilitary training.” One young man told Human Rights Watch, “they teach political orientation and history of the liberation struggle…. They do teach some skills, like carpentry, but we did lots of military training and physical exercise. We learned songs. In military training we learned methods to interrogate and beat people.” Teachers who underwent the training explained to Human Rights Watch that it consisted of a lot of physical exercise – running especially – but that the “core” of the training is “to create hate,” hate for “anything which ZANU PF labels anti-government and anti-ZANU.” They tell the youth not to read the Daily News or the Independent newspapers, and not to listen to radio stations that are broadcast from outside the country. They tell them the “land issue [is a] matter of black and white.” They talk about colonization and “economic decay is blamed on the British…. Mugabe is an innocent guy trying to do good for his people, while white forces are working against him.” See “The role of militia groups in maintaining Zanu PF’s political power,” AP Reeler, March 2003 ( Also see The Solidarity Peace Trust, National Youth Service Training: “Shaping Youths in a Truly Zimbabwean Manner”, September 5, 2003; “Nomination Court Sits Today,” The Herald, February 21, 2003 for the government’s statement re the Highfield election; and Ntungamili Nkomo, “Students Reject National Service Lectures,” The Daily News, March 1, 2003. Also Human Rights Watch interview with Progressive Teachers Union leader, March 5, 2003.

104 “Zanu PF Card Passport to Maize Meal in Highfield,” The Daily News, June 12, 2002. Also see, “MDC Claims Zanu-PF Using Food to Woo Voters,” The Daily News, October 18, 2002. For a more recent examples, see Precious Shumba, “Candidates call for peaceful by-elections,” The Daily News, February 22, 2003 and “MDC Accuses Zanu-PF of Intimidation Ahead of Highfield Poll,” The Daily News, February 25, 2003.

105 Precious Shumba, “Candidates call for peaceful by-elections,” The Daily News, February 22, 2003. Also, “Zanu PF Card Passport to Maize Meal in Highfield,” The Daily News, June 12, 2002; “MDC Claims Zanu-PF Using Food to Woo Voters,” The Daily News, October 18, 2002; “MDC Accuses Zanu-PF of Intimidation Ahead of Highfield Poll,” The Daily News, February 25, 2003. The MDC candidates won both by-elections.

106 Human Rights Watch interview, MDC politician, March 5, 2003.

107 Donors also feel that the situation would be improved if government allowed private companies to import maize. They tried to set up a basket fund to help local companies access foreign exchange to buy maize overseas, but that idea was rejected by government and “died a death.” Human Rights Watch interview with senior international relief official, February 21, 2003.

108 Human Rights Watch interview, MDC member, Marondera, March 4, 2003.

109 Human Rights Watch interview, professional in Harare, March 2, 2003.

110 Human Rights Watch interview, trade union leader, March 5, 2003.

111 Human Rights Watch interview, gardener, March 2, 2003.

112 Human Rights Watch interview, local human rights worker, February 24, 2003.

113 Human Rights Watch interview, MDC politician, March 5, 2003.

114 Human Rights Watch interview, professional in Harare, March 2, 2004.

115 Human Rights Watch interview, gardener in Harare, March 2, 2003.

116 Human Rights Watch interview, local human rights worker, February 24, 2003.

117 Human Rights Watch interview, trade union leader, March 5, 2003.

118 “Teachers Forced to Join Zanu PF to Obtain Food,” The Daily News, February 28, 2003 and Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, Violence against Teachers, Feb 2000-April 2002. Human Rights Watch interview with executive director, Progressive Teachers’ Union, March 5, 2003. Also, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO network:

119 Human Rights Watch interview, NGO official, March 24, 2003.

120 Human Rights Watch interview, local human rights worker, February 24, 2003.

121 Human Rights Watch interview, UN official, February 26, 2003.

122 Human Rights Watch interview, MDC activist, March 3, 2003.

123 Human Rights Watch interview, MDC activist and ex-teacher, March 3, 2003.

124 Human Rights Watch interview, professional in Harare, March 2, 2003.

125 Human Rights Watch interview, union activist and teacher, March 3, 2003.

126 Human Rights Watch interview, teachers union leader, March 5, 2003.

127 Human Rights Watch interview, grandmother and MDC member, March 4, 2003.

128 Human Rights Watch interview, elderly woman MDC activist, March 4, 2003.

129 Human Rights Watch interview, security guard and MDC member, March 4, 2003.

130 Human Rights Watch interview, grandfather and MDC supporter, March 4, 2003.

131 Letter from [anon] to Minister Goche, February 24, 2003 provided by Human Rights group.

132 Human Rights Watch interview, gardener in Harare, March 2, 2003.

133 Human Rights Watch interview, elderly woman MDC activist, Marondera, March 4, 2003.

134 Human Rights Watch interview with an NGO official, February 26, 2003.

135 Human Rights Watch interview with an NGO official, February 26, 2003.

136 “Resettled Areas in a State of Disaster,” The Zimbabwe Standard, May 25, 2003.

137 Human Rights Watch interview with local relief official, March 3, 2003.

138 Human Rights Watch interview with senior international relief official, February 25, 2003.

139 “There is ‘no good information on ex-commercial farms’ so we don’t know the need of each group. Donor governments need to assess the need, need to show if there is a “real need.” We need to gain access to the area, which is difficult. An ethical argument can be made against the EU, US and UK if we do not feed them because of the political affiliation of the new settlers. Mr. Mugabe’s government is willing to ask for help to feed people on the farms, but they say the problem is drought not politics.” Human Rights Watch interview with senior international relief official, February 25, 2003.

140 Human Rights Watch interviews, UN official, February 26, 2003 and international donor official, February 24, 2003. An NGO official provided the local view of the donors’ dilemma: “The British find it extremely difficult to include settlers, though unofficial ‘leakage’ is permitted; the Americans feel they could feed settlers in need but will not give them inputs; while the EU is ‘still scratching their heads’ trying to figure out what to do.” Human Rights Watch interview with local relief official, February 26, 2003.

141 One local aid worker said, we will not feed new settlers. ‘We will not reward them for their thuggery’. These people are now, still, used by government and are part of the government’s policy. We will feed them if there is a transitional government and we do it as part of a new policy. Human Rights Watch interview, February 25, 2003. An MDC official told Human Rights Watch in an interview on March 5 2003 that feeding the farm workers will “not legitimize the [government’s] land policy.” It is “not their fault” that they are hungry and living there. But, “no, no we should not feed [new] settlers.” Though some of these are victims too – not having benefited from the land policy – donors should not feed them. “They should go back to where they came from, and eat with their people there.”

142 Human Rights Watch interview, senior international relief official, February 21, 2003.

143 Human Rights Watch interview with UN official, February 27, 2003.

144 Jonathan Katzenellenbogen, “UN Food Aid Hope Rests on Harare Agreement,” Business Day (South Africa), September 29, 2003.

145 Tendai Maphosa, “Zimbabwe to Allow WFP to Handle Food Distribution,” Voice of America News, September 24, 2003.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>

October 2003