With general elections just eight months away, senior politicians in Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party are expressing displeasure over the government’s continued delay in formally requesting humanitarian food aid from the international community.
United Nations food agencies say more than 4 million Zimbabweans could need food by early next year. About 2 million will face hunger in the next three months. Many of the likely recipients are in rural areas traditionally dominated by the ruling party but which will be hotly contested by the opposition in the forthcoming balloting.
Governors and senior politicians in the most affected provinces – Matabeleland North and South, Midlands and Masvingo – where families could run out of food as early as next month have urged the government to formally ask for food assistance.
An acute water crisis and sanitation breakdowns with sewage flowing in the streets of Harare, Bulawayo and other towns are exacerbating the general crisis.
But President Robert Mugabe, backed by State Security Minister Didymus Mutasa and the Joint Operation Command comprising officials from the uniformed and security services, remains adamant his government will not “beg for food” as he put it.
However, as in previous years, Harare has given international humanitarian officials to understand that it would not reject food assistance that may be proffered.
The president has instructed Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono to raise funds to import maize - the country's staple - and tasked Agriculture Minister Rugare Gumbo and Mutasa to negotiate for food from Malawi, Zambia and South Africa.
Agriculture Minister Rugare Gumbo said Harare wants another food survey though the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program in conjunction with the government itself just produced one.
The state monopoly Grain Marketing Board, which did its own survey, said it is only looking for 500,000 tonnes of maize from the most recent harvest, well short of the 2 million tonnes Zimbabwe needs. Zambia has provided 100,000 tonnes of maize and the purchase of another 400,000 tonnes has been agreed with Malawi.
Spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that even without a formal appeal from Harare, her office and others will continue to canvass for donor contributions to feed the Zimbabwean people.
Cape Town-based political analyst Glen Mpani, meanwhile, said the government’s refusal to ask for food in the face of a humanitarian crisis is politically driven.