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Violence and politicisation of food aid continue

[Zimbabwe] President Robert Mugabe.
Youth militia are loyal to President Robert Mugabe's party (IRIN)

Human rights groups have voiced concern that political violence and the politicisation of food aid have continued in parts of Zimbabwe.

In its latest report the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum alleged that violence in the Insiza constituency, where a recent by-election was held, "continued unabated in the post election period".

Insiza is located near the second city of Bulawayo in south-western Zimbabwe.

The report, released on Tuesday, alleged that supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF and its youth militia "were harassing and forcing opposition supporters to denounce the MDC [Movement for Democratic Change] and join/rejoin the ZANU-PF".

There was also increasing evidence that ZANU-PF was manipulating the distribution of food along political lines in an effort to garner and retain political support.

"Reports recorded by the Human Rights Forum in September and October showed that food distribution had been politically manipulated to coerce votes from the electorate during the Rural District Council Elections and Insiza by-election respectively.

"In the month of October, the Human Rights Forum has documented incidents that suggest that ZANU-PF, with apparent government acquiescence, is controlling access to food aid, denying those perceived to be MDC supporters access. This is happening in the absence of a pending election," the Human Rights Forum alleged.

The UN World Food Programme suspended food aid distributions in Insiza in October following the seizure of food by ruling ZANU-PF activists.

The food agency said ZANU-PF activists in Senale centre in Insiza had "intimidated" staff of the local implementing NGO, Organisation of Rural Associations for Progress (ORAP), and seized 3 mt of food which they "distributed in an unauthorised manner".

The ZANU-PF supporters were campaigning ahead of a November by-election, which President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF won.

John Prendergast, co-director of the Africa programme of the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank, told IRIN that unlike political violence - which usually "spiked around elections, manipulation of food aid continued at pace broadly ... and continued to be used as a reward for political support and to punish the opposition.

"It is an instrument that leaves less of a mark than torture and putting people in prison. It's harder to prove and more general in its impact. We've seen no diminution in the use of political criteria [to determine food aid distribution], particularly of course of the commercial imports and distribution mechanisms controlled by Zimbabwe's Grain Marketing Board," Prendergast noted.

Physicians for Human Rights-Denmark (PHR-DK) has, in a recent report entitled Voting ZANU-PF For Food: Rural District and Insiza Elections, concluded that "the political abuse of food is the most serious and widespread human rights violation in Zimbabwe at this time".

Summary and link to full PHR-DK report

Full Human Rights Forum report

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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