/ 5 July 2002

‘Saboteurs’ to blame for Zim crisis

Food queues in Zimbabwe are growing. In the past six months people have become used to scouring shops and the stalls of black market vendors for mealie meal, cooking oil and sugar.

Last week salt joined the list of basic-foods-turned-precious-commodities and this week bread disappeared from store shelves.

The government responded by finding a new set of “saboteurs” to blame. State TV launched a blitz accusing bureaux de change of profiteering by driving up the exchange rate, while President Robert Mugabe accused Anglo American’s National Foods of hoarding salt.

“I want to say this to National Foods … we want them to come out in the open and tell this nation why they have been hoarding salt, why … they are creating shortages,” Mugabe said at a Zanu-PF meeting last weekend.

“We will not allow Anglo American to become the principal saboteurs of our economy.”

National Foods said the problem is with the government’s price-control regime, which has kept salt prices steady since October, even as inflation has soared to 122% and the parallel exchange rate has risen as high as Z$700 to US$1. Without a price increase the company can no longer afford to import salt from Botswana and South Africa.

The most troubling shortage is seed. With commercial farms limping along and farmers ordered to abandon crops, production of maize seed for next year’s crops has stopped, sparking fears that the food crisis will be greater next year.

The Zimbabwe Grain Marketing Board has a monopoly on buying and selling maize and wheat. The United Nations says the government must loosen its controls to cope with the food crisis.

“It won’t work for [Mugabe’s] Grain Marketing Board to manage this or to try to set prices, for all sorts of reasons, but specifically because they don’t have the hard currency to provide the working capital to do the work,” UN World Food Programme executive director James Morris said in New York on Monday.

Morris was speaking at the launch of a US$507-million appeal for food aid in six Southern African nations.

Mugabe on Tuesday suffered another blow when a United States federal magistrate recommended that Zanu-PF be ordered to pay US$73-million as compensation for political killings and torture before the 2000 parliamentary elections.

A federal judge still has to sign off on the order, which will clear the way for seizing assets held by Mugabe or Zanu-PF in the US. The resulting funds will go to victims of political violence. Beneficiaries could also go to courts in other countries asking that other assets be taken to comply with the ruling.

Meanwhile, a report released on Wednesday by the Human Rights Forum, a body of Zimbabwean and international rights groups, said about 17,2% of ballots cast in Zimbabwe’s March 9 to 11 presidential election were “directly problematic”.

Mugabe was declared the winner.

“Of 3 062 303 votes accounted for by the ESC [Electoral Supervisory Commission], at least 526 479 (17,2%) were directly problematic.

“Many results changed even after they had been verified and announced. The total prejudice to [Movement for Democratic Change leader] Morgan Tsvangirai on these post-verification changes alone was 50 729 votes,” the report said.