Death, starvation and political affiliation in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, choosing your political affiliation is a matter of life or death, confirms a new report. Political abuse of food is the most serious and widespread human rights violation in Zimbabwe at present, according to a November report from Physicians for Human Rights, Denmark (PHR-DK).

The organisation said its most significant findings related to the abuse of food and warned that if it was not possible to increase non-partisan food supplies into the country, then starvation and eventually death would occur along party political lines in Zimbabwe.

"We conclude that in the last four months, manipulation of food was directly related to elections. The threat of being deliberately starved by the government if the opposition won votes, was used to profoundly influence vulnerable rural voters in recent elections in Zimbabwe."

PHR-DK said in all cases of problematic food distribution, those implicated in politically manipulating access to food were Zanu-PF officials or supporters. The lack of food - a situation maintained by Zanu-PF - served a dual purpose for the party: it allowed political control through controlling who accessed food, and it created a Zanu-PF dominated black market which enriched the party hierarchy.

Covering the period from August to October 2002, the report documents the story of a mother named only as DD, who has nine children under the age of 12. She was an active Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporter before the Presidential elections and had experienced trouble accessing food as a result.

Shortly before the rural district elections, she realised that her food situation was desperate and that her children were in serious danger of starving to death. She realised that the MDC was not in a position to help, and that as long as she remained an MDC supporter, she would not get food, because that is what everyone in her ward had repeatedly been told by Zanu-PF officials.

She had tried repeatedly during 2002 to get on to World Food Programme feeding lists and was told by the local community leaders responsible for drawing up lists that she was not eligible as she was from the MDC. The kraal head, named as T in the report, came to her home and told her she had to surrender her MDC cards if she wanted to benefit from WFP donor food.

This was shortly before the Rural District Council elections. DD said she was made to publicly surrender her card and buy a Zanu-PF card. Immediately on doing this, she was declared as being eligible for WFP food, and was placed on their feeding lists. At the time her child was diagnosed as having kwashiorkor, a condition caused by protein and calorie deficiency.

The report is the third report in 2002 on torture in Zimbabwe written by PHR-DK. In January and May 2002, reports concluded that "mutilating torture" was being practised by government supporters against the political opposition, and that perpetrators operated on the assumption of total impunity.

The January and May reports both reflected concern at the clamp down on the Zimbabwean judiciary, media and civil society and its impact on the flow of information on human rights abuses to the international community.

"In May we warned that in the Zimbabwean context, fewer formal reports about abuses did not indicate that fewer abuses were taking place. Rather it indicated that repressive legislation and a growing government campaign against independent voices had succeeded in decreasing the information flow."

The organisation concluded in its November report that little had changed. "Torture and ill treatment beyond any doubt is still being practised by government supporters against their political opponents in Zimbabwe. The fact that perpetrators continue not to care whether they torture people who can identify them, or whether their acts of torture or ill treatment leave marks that can easily be recognised as caused by torture, underlines a clear assumption on their part, of impunity."

PHR-DK said current findings reinforced the conclusion of earlier reports - that there was a deliberate policy of torture and impunity by the authorities. The November report documents that attacks on independent voices in the media, the judiciary and civil society have indeed continued, and are predicted to escalate yet further in the next few months, in the form of further repressive legislation, as well as attacks on individuals.

PHR-DK is an independent group of Danish medical doctors founded in 1990 whose goal is to bring the skills of the medical profession to the protection of human rights. -Pambazuka

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