The Use of Food and Essential Needs as a Political Weapon
When the struggle against Zapu was at its height in the mid 80’s,the
regime here used the distribution of food as a political weapon for the
first time. I recall it well because we were in a severe drought and
was widespread shortage of food supplies from traditional sources. The
Brigade was doing its 'thing' in Matabeleland and although we knew
not well, we had scant idea of the full extent of that genocidal
In that year, the government cut off supplies from State controlled
and effectively said to the Ndebele people - if you continue to
Zapu, one way or another you will die. This was no idle threat - they
at least 20 000 people in the campaign, more than had died in the
of the country over many years and they controlled the basic staple
They did this by erecting roadblocks on all roads leading into the
areas in Matabeleland; these had instructions to stop the entry of
practitioners and also all forms of basic foods. Relatives in the urban
areas and in South Africa could not reach their families with aid when
requested and no publicity of the operation was allowed.
In 1987, after 5 years of murder, mayhem and hardship, Zapu capitulated
was absorbed into Zanu PF. There was little else they could do if their
people were to survive. The record of this savage political campaign is
published in the report 'Breaking the Silence' now in book form.
At that time there was no threat to the hegemony of Zanu PF in
They dominated the political scene and held an overwhelming majority in
Parliament. Mugabe wanted more - he wanted a one Party State. He
tolerate any opposition.
Since then many new opposition voices have come and gone. One by one
were eliminated by effective but less bloody techniques -
subversion, bribery, threats and a media black out with propaganda.
necessary they used violence - targeted and ruthless, or their
muscle to force leadership to leave the field or retire hurt.
Then came the MDC, a new labour based political movement with strong
roots support. Initially confident that the same lethal mix that had
poisoned the ground for opposition parties in the past would do the job
again, Zanu PF simply ignored the threat leaving it to the security
that held responsibility, to 'fix' the problem.
When they finally woke up the morning after the referendum in February
they suddenly knew they were in a real fight - this time for power
MDC had won the referendum even after those responsible for the vote
ensured that it would be rigged by 15 per cent and had assured them
they would win the vote quite easily.
The response by the regime to this electoral shock was predictable. Mr.
Mugabe gave a vintage performance on National television saying that he
accepted the decision of the people, but behind that cold façade was a
ruthless and cruel determination to use every tool in the Zanu PF tool
against these new usurpers.
In the intervening 7 years, Zanu PF has been forced to gradually
its campaign to retain power, in the process losing its democratic
credentials and its standing in the world community. Now Zanu faces its
serious threat since 1980 South Africa has forced the next election
March 2008 and the SADC is demanding that Zimbabwe fulfill its
as a member and adhere to the SADC norms for free and fair elections.
The strategy evolved by those doing this sort of thing in Zanu PF and
government itself, called for acceptance of changes to the actual
procedures on the day, but was intended to deliver a broken, bloodied
and a radically changed electoral pattern to the poll. So we have seen
renewed attacks on MDC structures - across the country, renewed use
imprisonment, false accusations, torture and savage beatings, all
to drive activists out of the country and to ntimidate those who
Then the operation, like Murambatsvina in 2005, designed to close down
business in urban areas, take over major export industries and drive
the country another 2 to 3 million urban inhabitants. This is well
and I estimate that half a million urban residents have already left
country for other countries - most going to South Africa. Millions
preparing to go and will move as soon as their plans are made.
As part of this integrated strategy the regime here has increased
over basic food supplies. They are systematically denying the urban
food - there is now no maize meal, no rice, no bread, no meat or
urban areas. People are scavenging for food and the struggle to feed
families and the elderly is becoming well nigh impossible. Couple this
water rationing or no water at all, water borne disease and fuel at
000 a litre and the local mini busses charging Z$100 000 per trip to
and you have a situation that is simply intolerable.
This situation is being creating deliberately - fuel is supposed to
selling at Z$350 per litre - the actual street price is Z$2 million
litres. Maize meal is supposed to be sold at Z$5 000 a kilo - the
price is Z$25 000 a kilo. Meat is supposed to be sold at Z$240 000 a
but the market price is not less than Z$1 million a kilo. The real rate
inflation for the ordinary worker is probably about 20 000 percent and
wages and income are rising slowly - controlled by government.
The plan was that by the time of the election in March 2008, the Cities
would be a shadow of their previous state, population down by half and
that remained, hungry and dependent either on Zanu PF employers or the
for survival. The MDC would also be reduced to a shell and a broken one
that! In the rural areas it was Zanu’s calculation that their hold
traditional leaders plus food control would deliver the vote.
This use of a mix of manipulation of the vote using the voters roll,
delimitation process in determining voting districts and then
physical control over voters on the day, has enlisted the support of
donor community who pour hundreds of millions of dollars into
assistance each year. The agencies involved allow themselves to be
by the State for this purpose by only doing what they are allowed to do
this field and supplying food through official channels. NGO’s are
extensions of government liable to be denied access to communities at
whim of local political authorities. Often Zanu PF is allowed to even
food aid operations. The UN Agencies are all guilty of such actions.
Breaking the hold of Zanu PF over the electoral system is only one half
the equation we require to secure our rights as a people. Their hands
also be taken off the price controls and the availability of food and
If we are going to get anything like a free and fair vote in 2008, this
latter aspect, which is very much under the control of foreign donors
investors, needs urgent attention.
Bulawayo, 19th September 2007