Hunger hits Buhera

BUHERA - Temparatures are high and villagers are sitting under a tree at Mutiusinazita Business Centre in Buhera waiting to get their monthly allocation of food relief, which comes in the form of a bucket of maize from the  district administrator.

Mutiusinazita falls under Ward 24 of Buhera South Constituency.

Apparently the name Mutiusinazita in Shona means “a tree without a  name”. The name has been passed on through oral tradition for generations that have endured the famine in the area.

Folklore has it that this particular tree could not bear any fruit because of the barrenness of the land.
As the hungry villagers, comprising mostly women and children, wait for the maize to be delivered, they are singing Zanu PF songs in praise of the party’s losing candidate Joseph Chinotimba whom they credit for  providing the drought food relief for free.

As elections loom, politicians in drought-prone Buhera are taking advantage of government food aid programmes to spearhead their campaigns. Food has become the centre of political campaigning here.

Zanu PF is fighting tooth and nail to reclaim the Buhera South Constituency that it lost to the MDC in the 2008 parliamentary elections.

On the other hand, the MDC says it is working with the local authorities to secure food for the people.
UN agency, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that about 1, 6 million people will require food aid in Zimbabwe by the next harvest, expected from April 2013 onwards.

“This is the highest level of food insecurity in the past three years,” said WFP,  noting that a number of issues affecting food security included HIV and Aids, political instability and unemployment.

“Food production in Zimbabwe has been devastated by a combination of  economic and political instability, and natural disasters,” WFP stated.

“Recurrent droughts, a series of poor harvests, high unemployment (estimated at more than 60 percent), restructuring of the agricultural sector and a  high HIV/Aids prevalence rate — at 13,7 percent, the fifth highest in the world — have all contributed to increasing levels of vulnerability  and acute food insecurity since 2001.

This situation has necessitated large-scale humanitarian food assistance operations in the country,” WFP stated.

Back in Buhera South, Chinotimba confirmed that he was, indeed, providing relief food to people in the constituency on “humanitarian grounds” but quickly dismissed claims that he had hijacked a government food programme to regain lost popularity.

“Yes we are giving all the people in the constituency, not only those from my party. Even if I give those from my party, why can’t the MDC people look for their own maize?” asked Chinotimba.

Chinotimba’s supporters are firmly behind him.

They believe those who voted for the MDC in the last elections should not benefit from his food relief programme.

“This is maize for Zanu PF supporters only. We do not want to see any MDC people here. We got it from Cde Chinotimba so we are only giving it to the people from our party,” said a man who identified himself only as Marupiya.

However, some villagers accuse Chinotimba of selfishness by trying to win back votes using food as blackmail.

Asked where he was getting the money to fund his project, Chinotimba was reluctant to talk saying he was just like a “father who fends for his family”.

“Iwe, kana baba vakabuda kundokorokoza vodzoka vakabata chingwa ungavabvunza kuti machiwanepi here kana kuti unongotambira (Do you ask your father to divulge the source of his money when he comes  home with goodies?). I get the money mandinofamba,” responded Chinotimba.

The sitting MP for Buhera South Constituency, MDC’s Naison Nemadziva, said he was working on a parallel programme with the local leadership to bring food to the area.

He accused his rival, Chinotimba of using food aid to buy votes.

Nemadziva  said he was against the distribution of free food in the area opting instead to have people contribute $3 per household to have the maize sourced and delivered to the business centre for collection.

“The $3 is used to transport the maize from wherever we source it and villagers can come and collect their monthly rations through the  district administrator’s offices.

We are cash strapped but we are trying our best,” said Nemadziva.

Buhera South administrator Rolland Madondo downplayed the issue of  politicisation of food relief saying food aid programmes were administered by the traditional leadership.

Madondo said the area has become so barren that no meaningful crop could be produced,  adding that without rehabilitation, the area could be better used as a game park.

Ward 24 Councillor Bodier Nendanga, whose jurisdiction falls within  Mutiusinazita, said he was concerned with the allocation of maize to people in the area.

He said he was aware of the Zanu PF votes for food  campaign.

The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) has also alleged in its monthly reports  that hungry villagers were being denied food hand outs and forced to denounce their own parties in return for assistance.

ZPP says Zanu PF is using local councillors, village heads, and traditional chiefs to side-line MDC supporters in rural areas from government food lists that are used when distributing food.

The situation has affected young children mainly, with some dropping out of school to hustle for cash to look after their ageing parents and  siblings.

“Enrolment in schools has dropped because parents  cannot afford to pay for fees and they are concentrating on how to get  food for their children,” said a headmaster from a local school.

Teenage sex and early marriages are on the increase in the area as a result.

But with elections around the corner, it seems villagers will have to do with being victims of food for political support blackmail. - OWN CORRESPONDENT

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