HARARE - Rampant corruption in food aid is worsening the suffering of Zimbabweans hit by drought, a rights group has warned, with Zanu PF politicians allegedly sabotaging food distribution and giving it out where it was not needed to win support.
Nearly five million Zimbabweans require food assistance in an El Nino-induced drought that has struck people across southern Africa.
Most of the Zimbabweans suffering the politicisation of aid are desperate villagers living in arid, marginalised rural areas.
“In the reported cases, councillors and traditional leaders are removing the names of MDC and ZPF supporters from lists so that they do not benefit from food aid being co-ordinated by the Social Welfare department,” executive director of Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe (CCDZ) Phillip Pasirayi, said in the new report.
“The priority beneficiaries are supposed to be orphans and widows, the old, people living with disabilities, people living with chronic illnesses as well as people living in abject poverty before the rest of the communities can benefit.”
The rights group said it was concerned by the on-going partisan distribution of food aid and agricultural inputs by government officials, councillors and traditional leaders in rural areas.
Food aid in Zimbabwe is a multi-million dollar business that is highly politicised and vulnerable to corruption.
The report said there was political interference throughout the response process, affecting contracting, recruitment and the manipulation of targeting and distribution processes.
“...received reports from its community structures on the partisan distribution of food aid and agricultural inputs in Murewa and Hurungwe districts whilst in Mutasa and Makoni, only Zanu PF members are benefitting from the ‘food-for-work’ schemes led by the department of Social Welfare, councillors and traditional authorities,” the report said.
The rights group said in some districts, the “food for work? programme is being rolled out on a partisan and discriminatory manner.
“...has been receiving similar reports from community monitors in Hurungwe and Karoi districts in Mashonaland West.
“Communities in Makoni and Mutasa districts last week highlighted that the ‘food for work’ programme was discriminatory as the same families continue to benefit,” the report said.
There were also complaints about favouritism, nepotism and influence-peddling, according to the report, which was based on interviews and focus group discussions with participants in the affected regions.
“At a community meeting organised by CCDZ in Mutasa Ward 20 last week, one woman stated that Zanu PF supporters have been mocking opposition supporters saying that ‘mombe inonwa mukaka wemombe dhongi richinwa wedhongi’ which means that only Zanu PF supporters should benefit from the inputs and food aid whilst opposition supporters should get aid from their parties or leaders,” the report said.
“We strongly urge the ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare to ensure that all Zimbabweans benefit from on-going food aid distribution.
“We further call upon traditional leaders to stick to their mandate and to stop violating the fundamental rights and freedoms of people in rural areas,” the report said.
The government has repeatedly denied politicising aid and defended its actions, insisting it remains completely impartial.
In a recent briefing to aid agencies, Social Welfare minister Priscah Mupfumira claimed aid agencies work very well with key government departments to support the delivery of humanitarian relief, and stated President Robert Mugabe had said no Zimbabwean would die of starvation.
Despite Mupfumira’s hollow remonstrations, rights groups insist politicisation of food aid remains widespread, especially in Zanu PF strongholds, yet the impartiality of the humanitarian operations is fundamental to saving lives.
“Given the devastating effects of El Nino during the farming season of 2015-16, most rural communities are living in hunger, hence all people must equally benefit from the food aid scheme regardless of political party affiliation,” the report said.
The rights group urged the State-run Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) to make investigations on the human rights violations and take necessary action to stop the violations.