Mugabe's party 'using food aid to buy poll support'
Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF has been accused of using food aid to build political support ahead of general elections in Zimbabwe later this year.
Officials in the south are said to be circumventing local, multiparty councillors who previously distributed food aid and instead giving grain and rice donated by the president only to Zanu PF loyalists to distribute.
They, in turn, have allegedly been demanding to see Zanu PF membership cards before they hand over food parcels. An estimated 1.6 million Zimbabweans are dependent on food aid because of severe dry spells and hailstorms which wiped out up to 80pc of crops in some areas.
There are fears that with a new harvest approaching and forecasts of erratic rainfall, more could soon be affected.
Analysts say that with international pressure on Zimbabwe's politicians to avoid the bloodshed of previous elections, coercion tactics such as the partisan distribution of food will increasingly be deployed.
"If they are trying to avoid outright violence in the next elections, the manipulation of food supplies becomes part of an array of tactics that can be used instead," said Piers Pigou, from International Crisis Group.
Several reports have surfaced about such practices in Masvingo and Matabeleland South, two of the worst-affected provinces. In Matobo, south of Bulawayo and hit by cattle deaths and crop failures, it was reported that only wards represented by Zanu PF councillors were being given food.
Douglas Mwonzora, the MDC-T's national spokesman, said he was concerned that such activities were increasing. "Zanu PF is using food as a political weapon," he said.
Andrew Langa, the Zanu PF Matabeleland South chairman, denied the claims, saying it was not his party's policy to discriminate on the basis of political allegiance. (© Daily Telegraph, London)