Mugabe raided the farms that were feeding the nation.
ENGINEERED FAMINE IN ZIMBABWE
Under strict laws on reporting, it is all but impossible
for their plight to reach the country's media.
'Zimbabwe never had food shortages before.
Mugabe has caused this famine'
by Damien McElroy, Telegraph, Apr 18, 2004 in Bulawayo
A flicker of Esinathi Dube's deep-set eyes is the only significant sign of life in a room where starvation has brought a pervasive fear of death. Her eldest daughter, Agnes, succumbed in February; Esinathi predicts that she will soon follow. Another daughter, Sipho, lies at her side weeping away the pain of hunger. Agnes was a strong girl but she died because she did not eat," says Esinathi. "We could not afford to buy food and the hospitals turned us away when we looked for help." The two sisters, aged 32 and 34, should have been the first generation of black Zimbabweans to benefit from Robert Mugabe's rule as the first democratically elected leader of the nation. When the liberation hero turned dictator and engineered a famine, however, Agnes and thousands of others joined a long list of the regime's victims. Sipho is one of thousands more who hover on the brink.
Food shortages have pushed Zimbabwean prices to unaffordable levels. A loaf of bread in Bulawayo costs 2,500 Zimbabwe dollars, the equivalent of 30p, but also the same as the average monthly pension. As a result, an estimated 5.5 million Zimbabweans depend on food aid. Every street of Makokoba, on the outskirts of Bulawayo, has a house like Esinathi's that has lost a family member to starvation.
Under Zimbabwe's strict laws on reporting, it is all but impossible for their plight to reach the country's media, but a church worker agreed to introduce the Telegraph to bereaved families. In agreeing to show us his black book, filled with notes of funeral arrangements, Edward Churu (not his real name) would face two years in prison if he were caught.
Eggs are frying in Esinathi's house but that is not a sign of hope. She has sub-let the space to migrants to pay the rent, but they do not share food. "It is their food, not mine." Once a week, Esinathi's parish priest gives food to the destitute which, with the occasional act of charity, has kept Esinathi and her daughter alive. "It is not enough," says Edward. "We hand out mealy-mealy [maize] but it is never enough, not even for a few days."
Large families face even greater pressures. Since Mafu Kumaro's two daughters died this year, he has had to look after a 16-strong extended family - a burden that threatens to overwhelm the old man. The youngest orphan among his many grandchildren, Ntombazana, has the distended stomach of the malnourished. Mafu returns home with a bag filled with scraps of paper. When asked why, he turns his head away: "We put the strips into the sadza [porridge] that we make with maize from the parish. We try to make sure that the children don't notice. It stops them being hungry."
When Mafu arrived in Makokoba, Bulawayo was still a prosperous city dominated by the white-owned businesses and farms that made Zimbabwe one of Africa's richest regions. Two years ago, as President Mugabe's land grab destroyed the economy, Mafu lost his job as a cleaner.
"When the Europeans were here, we could cope," he said. "I had money to buy food and a clinic handed out free drugs. Now we have no jobs, no income, inflation is 1,000 per cent and when we go to hospital they ask us for money. If we have none, we are turned away."
The Zimbabwean Health Ministry has conceded that 63 people died of starvation in Bulawayo last month. According to a prominent critic of the government, Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, the real figure is many times higher. He estimates that 1,000 people die from lack of food each month around Bulawayo alone.
"We never had food shortages before, not in 120 years since the commercial farmers started to work the land," said Archbishop Ncube. "Mugabe has caused this famine because he raided the farms that were feeding the nation. But they don't care for the people."
After heavy spring rains, there are forecasts that Zimbabwe will produce a better crop this year than last, alleviating the shortages and easing the inflationary pressures that cause people in cities to starve. As a result, international aid agencies are scaling down their assistance programmes in the area. Cafod, the London-based donor, is moving away from handing out food and starting projects that help people to buy more food. "The indications are there is more food," said Tim Aldred, a Cafod spokesman. "The problem is [finding] the cash to afford that food." Local aid workers, however, say aid agencies' new plans are based on undue optimism. "The rains came late and then it was too heavy, washing away sandy soil and destroying seeds," said Njamal Ncube, an aid worker. "Overall, there are districts north and west of here where people already have nothing. They have eaten the seeds long before harvest time." The crisis is being made worse by a new crackdown on foreign exchange trading that has targeted organisations at the front line of the fight against famine. A private hospital in Wanga, near Victoria Falls, which exchanged money via a conglomerate controlled by the ruling party, was last week fined £13,000.
In remote areas, Zimbabwe's food crisis is concealed by militia members and cadres of the ruling Zanu PF party who track movements in the villages. But in Bulawayo, it is impossible to miss. Dozens of soup kitchens and charity distribution centres are scattered around the city, even in well-to-do areas. As neighbours sit for hours in the sun waiting for donations, volunteers try to boost their morale as well as their weight. "I don't work, I eat grass," said one volunteer, Lucy, managing to joke at their plight and causing laughter to ripple around the room. "I am an animal, not a human being any more." In a workshop at the centre, Alice, an 87-year-old widow, takes two weeks to weave a single rug from old strips of cloth that she then sells for less than £2. Archbishop Ncube believes that the plight of victims like Alice will not improve as long as President Mugabe remains in office.
"Our problem is that we have no Zimbabwean leader who can wake up the people to stop this nonsense," he said. "The people are scared. But they hate him. When he dies, they will celebrate."
Severe hunger looms for Zimbabwe (world's lowest life expectancy & highest inflation rate). BBC, Jan 26, 2007
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