Politicising food aid is criminal

Zimbabwe is once again staring a possible drought right in the face, particularly the Midlands, Masvingo and the Matabeleland provinces, regions that are prone to receiving less rain than is enough for cropping.

By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu

Some say that several localities in various Mashonaland and Manicaland regions have been receiving some rain occasionally, but certainly not enough for agricultural purposes.

In the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) countries, those with usually reliable rain patterns are Angola, the DRC, northern and central Zambia, north-western, north-eastern Zimbabwe, Swaziland, South Africa’s Gauteng Province, and northern Mozambique.

Some of those regions are on high altitudes as is the case with Swaziland and the Gauteng area, and some are in the inter- tropical convergence zone (ITCZ) path.

However, this season there has been no rain even in most of those generally wet regions, as is the case in Zambia’s Mkushi belt. The DRC could be an exception because it lies in the equatorial region where droughts are virtually unknown.

Zimbabwe is an agricultural nation, and, so, droughts have a much greater adverse effect on people’s lives than in other countries where sources of livelihoods and life styles are different.

The Government has, of course, assured the nation that the country has adequate grain in its silos, and that no-one will starve. There may certainly be enough maize and rice in the national silos, but how accessible are those supplies and/ or distribution centres to the majority of the people, particularly the rural communities?

Accessibility of food supplies is a major problem in various parts of Zimbabwe. That problem can be solved if food distribution can be handled by the Government’s social welfare department personnel working closely with chiefs, headmen and village heads.

Rural district councillors could also play an important role such as giving information to their respective wards. Distribution points should be chosen by either the chiefs or by the headmen, each of those traditional leaders being assisted by village heads and councillors.

Supplies should be stored at social welfare facilities at district administrative centres, with the district administrators’ offices and local ZRP being responsible for their security.

National food supplies should always be a government responsibility and not that of a political party whether it is in power or it is an opposition. That is simply because a government is responsible for every citizen’s welfare, rights and security whereas a political party is very narrowly responsible for its members’ rights.

It is undoubtedly a form of corruption for a political party’s official to store some national food supplies in or on his or her personal premises, to say nothing about distributing it to his or her party’s members.

Such a practice would make recipients of such food supplies feel indebted to the giver and his or her party and, in that way, obliged to vote for him or her party; the giver would have been, in effect, turned himself into a modern feudal lord, and the recipients into serfs.

Chiefs and headmen can and should store and distribute food supplies because it is a part of their traditional duty to take care of their respective communities. Traditionally, they should have what is called zunde ramambo, hhunde lahe, a reference to a day on which every adult subject of a headman or of a chief goes to plough for him or her.

The yields of such zunde or hhunde fields are stored in special granaries from which they are distributed to the people if and when it is necessary. That is an old African practice and it is also very clearly stated in the Bible’s first book, Genesis, in the story about Joseph.

In Zimbabwe, chiefs and headmen should have such granaries, and every adult should supply a publicly agreed minimum quantity of a particular cereal yearly to his or her headman or chiefs.

The construction of the granaries as well as traditional court yards should be a national responsibility financed by taxation of the headman’s or chief’s subjects.

Since food administration is a sensitive issue in Zimbabwe due to unemployment, frequent droughts and a relatively high population growth rate, headmen and chiefs would be well advised to have administrative communities comprising people of acknowledged integrity to assist them.

That every district should have food storage facilities is quite obvious; similarly, that every chiefdom should have zunde/hhunde granaries is not debatable.

We must always remember that lack of food is one of the causes, if not the major cause for people to leave rural areas for urban centres, especially in Third World countries.

Sadc demographers say that populations double every seven years in some urban centres and every 12 years in others.

Urban centres are perceived to offer more and better survival opportunities than rural areas. However, the high urbanisation rate has its own dangers one of which is inadequate water supplies, a strain on health and accommodation facilities and over loaded sewage systems.

Outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and typhoid occur quite frequently as a result in such urban centres. That type of situation could be avoided if rural areas are taken care of as it is where presently a larger number of people live particularly in Zimbabwe.