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Food aid, violence used to buy support, loyalty

KACHIMANA, a very small, hot and dry village in Mudzi West constituency, is a Zanu PF stronghold that is suffering from underdevelopment and severe food deficiencies 38 years after independence.


Despite efforts to eke out a living by farming the rocky and mountainous landscape along the Mudzi River, very long dry spells mean they often have to rely on government food aid and donations to get through to the next season.

It is the food aid and political violence in these areas that have kept them loyal to Zanu PF over the years and with another dry season beckoning just before the July 30 general election, the captive voters said they had no option, but to vote for Zanu PF.

Denis Chishumba, a father of six, who only managed to harvest three bags of maize and has no other source of income, said it was a choice between voting for the opposition and suffering from hunger or keep Zanu PF in power and receive donations.

“We were given clear options by the political leadership here; that food aid will not come if we do not vote for Zanu PF, and as a family man, one takes the option that puts food on the table,” he said.

Economic activity in this area is limited to selling farm produce to the Grain Marketing Board or illegal mining along the Mudzi riverbed.

The other option is to trek close to 30km to Makaha to engage in illegal gold mining in which many people perish underground in search of the elusive precious metal.

Tonderai Ngirandi, one of the many youths who grew up in Mudzi, went to Nyamatawa School, some 10km away from his home.

He spends most of his time drinking a potent local kachasu brew and periodically the famous scud, and says change of leadership is needed.

“The choices here are limited; it’s either you are mining in Makaha or waiting for food aid. There is no work or any other option for the youth here. Those who want a better life have to leave this place, it’s time for a change of leadership, but I doubt it will come because our parents are entrapped in the history of Zanu PF politics, they fear violence and they pass that message to their children,” he said.

Ngirandi occasionally works at the mines in Makaha, where a Zanu PF membership card is a major facilitator to go around. He says many have been buried in those pits as they worked to earn a living.

First time voter Juliet Chikukwa in Chikona village tells of chilling threats of violence at a meeting called by the headman of the area, only identified as Para.

“We were told by some men who came to the village for the first time that if we failed to vote for Zanu PF and if there was ever going to be a run-off, we would suffer the consequences. They said August 8 would be bloody, going into the run-off,” she said.

The 2008 run-off effects are still fresh in the minds of many who were victims of a brutal system that went all out to violently punish opposition supporters, mostly in Zanu PF rural strongholds.

Juliet’s sister, Trainer, gave a graphic depiction of how suspected opposition supporters were tied to traditional shelves used to keep plates out of reach of animals and had their feet thoroughly clobbered.

“We are like goats here and we belong to Zanu PF. If you attempt to go into a kraal of other goats, you will be attacked, it is, therefore, not by choice that we stay in our place. People were beaten up, with some losing their lives. So just imagining that scenario is heart-rending and frightening,” Trainer said.

Many, she says, left their homes and slept in a mountain called Chigari and a number of other caves as they evaded retribution.

“We chose peace, we chose to vote Zanu PF so that we stay in our homes and even if we are hungry and the future is bleak, it’s better than being hunted down like animals by fellow human beings,” she says.

The only real place where there is economic activity is Kotwa, the home to government offices and a few hotels, where the lucky few run flea markets mainly of second-hand clothes smuggled into the country using the Nyamapanda Border Post.

The Grain Marketing Board depot and Registrar-General’s Office are also located at Kotwa, so are the district education offices, while the provincial offices are in Marondera. The poor farmers have to travel about 40km on foot or in scotchcarts to get basic government services, because public transport is virtually non-existent.

The snaking dust roads that connect most of Mudzi West have been forgotten and major bus operators who used to ply these routes have abandoned them, limiting reach to the Harare-Nyamapanda Highway.

Election observers who included the European Union, IRI/NDI and Commonwealth in their reports on the just ended elections raised concerns over issues raised by Trainer, saying there was an uneven political playing field coupled with the overt use of food aid and State resources, partisan behaviour by traditional leaders in contravention of constitutional requirements for their political neutrality as well as intimidation of the electorate.

A former senior Central Intelligence Organisation operative, Magna Mudyiwa, of the ruling Zanu PF party, is the legislator in the area, getting into Parliament through a by-election in 2015 after garnering 9 837 votes against National Constitutional Assembly candidate George Kawaza’s paltry 107 votes, in an election boycotted by the main opposition MDC-T. Mudyiwa complained of fierce interparty violence in her constituency, which shook her out of her bid to get elected in 2013.

“My work in the President’s Office did not allow me to be active in politics, but whenever I visited Mudzi, I always met people who persuaded me to join mainstream politics and in 2013, I heeded the call. However, I faced a lot of intra-party violence which was so fierce that I could not make it into Parliament that year,” she said.

She was to win in the July 2018 general elections to retain the Mudzi West seat with 14 289 votes, beating her rival Gift Danai Mutereko of MDC Alliance, who managed just 1 147.

A summary of findings by commissions set up by civil society organisations found that there was need to heal the tensions that are constantly used to inflict fear without the use of actual violence.

“IRI/NDI and ZCC said due to tension over unresolved and lingering past hurts and pains, the nation is deeply divided, hence the need for all political parties to make concerted efforts to unify the country as well as urgent redress through a holistic process of nation building and envisioning,” the report read.

The Zimbabwe Elections Support Network called on the Parliament of Zimbabwe to take note of issues raised by observers so that they are corrected before the 2023 general elections.

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