Millions of Zimbabweans are depending on distributions of food aid to survive due to a poor harvest last year and the economic crisis besetting the country, but a new report by a nongovernmental organization says food is being handed out on political lines to reward backers of the ruling party and exclude supporters of the opposition.
The Zimbabwe Peace Project said it documented 267 cases in September in which the distribution of food and other forms of aid, such as the provision of seed, was carried out on political lines. Such discrimination, which in some cases included harassment and violence, occurred nationally, according to the organization. But the pattern of discrimination was strongest in Masvingo and Midlands provinces, it said.
It cited "malicious damage to property, physical attack on community members and in a serious case a village head was allegedly shot in a dispute over food aid. For women, some food distributors were demanding sex in exchange for food aid."
In 70% of cases, those denied food or other aid were opposition members, said the civil society group, while 8% of the victims were members of the ruling party, and 3% were penalized for an affiliation with some nongovernmental organization.
The Peace Project report said instances of discrimination on grounds of political party affiliation or participation in NGO activities "abound in the food distribution process."
The report said such abuses were most commonly associated with distributions by the Grain Marketing Board, the Zimbabwean state cereals monopoly.
"Traditional leaders, councilors and community food committees mostly recommended by ZANU-PF leaders orchestrated the removal of non-ruling party members from the list of beneficiaries. Beneficiaries were expected to chant ruling party slogans and to produce party affiliation cards before receiving food," the report said.
Zimbabwe Peace Project Director Jestina Mukoko told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that traditional leaders such as village headmen are commonly responsible for enforcing discrimination in food distribution.