- Apr 29, 2005Zimbabwe moves to bring in food
The Zimbabwean government has announced it will import 1.2m tons of the staple food, maize, over the next few months.
However, the state-run Grain Marketing Board head denied opposition charges that the country had run out of food.
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) official Renson Gasela accused the government of failing to act while the country faced "a national catastrophe".
President Robert Mugabe has accused the MDC of exaggerating food shortages and turned down offers of food aid.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwean newspaper, The Standard, has reported that a national park was instructed to slaughter elephants in order to feed villagers at last week's Independence Day celebrations.
GMB head retired army Col Samuel Muvuti called the MDC "ignorant and irresponsible," and said it wanted to spread "alarm and despondency", reports the state-run Herald newspaper.
He said imports had already started to arrive and said feeding the nation was the government's priority after drought in February and March.
On Wednesday, Mr Gasela said Zimbabwe would harvest only about 500,000 tonnes of maize against a demand of 1.8m tonnes.
"Any honest government, having misled the nation that there was more than enough maize, even to the extent of stopping donors, would apologise to the nation for its omission or commission," he said.
There are also shortages of other basics like toothpaste and margarine.
Ahead of parliamentary elections in March, President Mugabe did admit that Zimbabwe would have to import grain following drought and a poor harvest.
The country is facing a foreign exchange crisis, with production of cash crops such as tobacco only a fraction of what it was before the seizure of white-owned farms.
Critics blame food shortages on the land reform programme which has seen thousands of white farmers forced to leave their land in the past five years.
The government blames food shortages on drought and economic sabotage by Western countries, led by the UK, opposed to land reform.
Protests at Zimbabwe rights role
By Susannah Price
BBC News, United Nations
The United States and other countries have protested about the re-election of Zimbabwe to the UN's main human rights body, the Human Rights Commission.
Zimbabwe was one of 15 countries chosen by members of the UN's Economic and Social Council in New York. All but one were chosen by consensus.
Critics say too many countries with appalling human rights records have been on the commission.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has recommended it should be replaced.
Zimbabwe will sit on the UN Human Rights Commission for the next three years.
It was, like other candidates, put forward by its regional grouping - in this case the Africa group.
There were immediate protests from the United States, with the deputy US representative to the Economic and Social Council, William Brencick, accused Zimbabwe of maintaining repressive controls on political assembly and the media.
He asked how they could expect Zimbabwe to support international human rights at the commission while it disregarded the rights of its own people.
Australia and Canada also objected.
However, Zimbabwe's ambassador to the UN, Boniface Chidyausiku, said that when it came to human rights no country was beyond reproach.
The Human Rights Commission, based in Geneva, has been widely criticised because of the poor human rights records of many of its members.
Kofi Annan has said that its declining credibility has cast a shadow on the UN's reputation as a whole.
He has suggested that as part of wider UN reforms, the commission should be replaced by a smaller human rights council directly elected by the General Assembly.
Harare reaches state of collapse
29 April 2005 08:13
Picture a township of 100 000 people going two weeks without water, suffering sewerage bursts, no fuel, and power blackouts that often last half the day.
That is the reality in Mabvuku/Tafara township, one of at least seven Harare suburbs afflicted by the progressive collapse of basic services.
"It's a recipe for disaster," said John Chirosvo, of Mabvuku. "The city's crumbling," says Mark Davies, chairperson of the Harare Residents and Ratepayers Association. "Water and power cuts are widespread; the people who have run the city for the past 25 years have failed us."
Davies said several suburbs had gone for two months without water, while there were intermittent power cuts. In Mabvuku/Tafara residents are surviving on water from boreholes and streams that are considered a health hazard. Timothy Mabhawu, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) MP for the constituency, said he had been warned the township might be without piped water for a year.
The Mail & Guardian witnessed scores of Mabvuku residents trudging long distances to collect water from streams in Gosden.
Marceline Nyika (32) was interviewed while fetching water from a borehole at RC Hondo building contractors, meant for brickmakers. "We don't know who's to blame," she said, sitting on two tins in a 100m queue. "It's two weeks now, and no word from the government."
About a kilometre south sewerage pipes that burst a few weeks ago remain unrepaired.
Inquiries established that the water supply had been interrupted in six other black residential areas in and around the capital, including Ruwa, Epworth, Mbare, Mufakose and the dormitory town of Chitungwiza. Davies said up-market areas of Harare, such as Borrowdale and Greendale, had not been spared.
The "overall state of the economy" was to blame. City engineers had told him the government would need $100-million for the construction of another waterworks. The existing facility could service only half the townships and nearby industry.
Lake Chivero dam, about 30km west of Harare, has been the traditional water source for the city. However, rapid population growth * fuelled by the government's land reforms and the collapse of the rural economy * has outstripped capacity. To ease the pressure, the government proposed building Kunzwi dam and a new waterworks. The project has been on the drafting table for eight years, sources said, as its huge budget required Cabinet approval.
Engineers at the city council said the problem was that "everything is centralised". "It was foreseen 50 years ago that Harare would need a new waterworks. But government has sat on the plans."
Mabhawu said he had tried to break the water impasse. "Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo is running meetings at the party headquarters, and the mayoress and her town clerk are at a trade fair in Bulawayo," Mabhawu said. "There is nobody to assist."
Former Harare Mayor Elias Mudzuri said nearly all the engineers had left the council. "We now have many incompetent people running city affairs because the [national] government bullied its way into council affairs," he said. "[Local Government Minister] Chombo is an educationist, not an engineer," he added.
Harare's regular power cuts flow from a crippling foreign exchange shortage that prevents the Zimbabwe government from servicing its debts to Eskom and Mozambique's Cahora Bassa.
Zimbabwe's Standard newspaper has estimated that the Zimbabwe Electricty Authority owes $200-million, of which $12-million (R70-million) is owed to Eskom.
However, Eskom spokesperson Fani Zulu said Zesa owed Eskom "less than R15-million". Eskom was in no way responsible for Harare's power cuts. "Several schools may have to be shut down," Mabhawu said. "Children can't use filthy latrines * it's a health hazard."
Driving into town from Mabvuku, one sees meandering fuel queues that have resurfaced since the elections. Most Harare garages have run dry.
The woes of Harare residents are compounded by a shortage of basic food commodities at most supermarkets. Sugar, maize meal, cooking oil and margarine have disappeared from shelves.
The MDC on Wednesday said Zimbabwe had run out of food, including the national staple, maize, and demanded an apology from President Robert Robert Mugabe's government for lying about abundant harvests. "The country has run out of maize, this a fact," Renson Gasela, MDC's shadow agriculture minister told a news conference.
The government, which last year claimed Zimbabwe had produced a bumper harvest, should apologise for misleading Zimbabweans and start approaching international aid donors, Gasela said.
Mugabe admitted before the parliamentary elections in March that Zimbabwe would have to import grain following drought and a poor harvest.
Interfin Securities economist Farayi Dyirakumunda said shortages of fuel and basic commodities were linked to Zimbabwe's critical forex problem.
"People could be holding back on fuel supplies in anticipation of a devaluation of the Zimdollar, which would trigger price hikes," Dyirakumunda said.
"Many producers of basic food commodities have scaled down their operations because they don't have forex to import inputs," he said. "The government has aggravated the situation with price controls."
Zimbabwean economist Eric Block confirmed that the country's economy was "in continuing decline", and that Harare was suffering from a lack of forex to maintain equipment and buy water purification chemicals. Tourism was depressed, because of both the political climate and rising prices.
The only bright spot was the fall in the inflation rate from a high of 622% in January 2004 to its current 123%.
However, Block predicted inflation would start rising again because of oil price increases and Zimbabwe's poor harvest. The country had produced only a third of the basic foodstuffs required to feed the population. Drought was a factor in this, but "chaos in the agricultural sector" had also played its part. Block suggested the government had subsidised food prices before the election, but said this was not sustainable.
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