Lessons for SA as Zimbabwe’s maize looted from the hungry – Cathy Buckle

Written on 02/21/2020
Linda van Tilburg

Cathy Buckle says food aid supposed to feed the hungry is diverted to the black market by corrupt officials and sold in Zimbabwe’s neighbours.

Zimbabwe had one of the worst rainy seasons from October to December last year, which severely impacted crop prospects. Global Agricultural Monitoring reports that Matebeleland South province is the worst affected area with reports indicating that in some part of the province up to 70% of households did not plant this season. The shortages resulted in an appeal in December by the World Food Programme to feed 8 million people in Zimbabwe, which is facing one of its worst humanitarian disasters this century. With growing concern that vulnerable groups were not able to access subsidised maize meal, the country has adopted a coupon system similar to food stamps. But Cathy Buckle, who has her ear on the ground in this troubled country, says food aid supposed to feed the hungry is diverted to the black market by corrupt officials and sold in Zimbabwe’s neighbours. – Linda van Tilburg

Looting cheap food from hungry Zimbabweans

By Cathy Buckle*

I am writing this letter to you on Robert Mugabe Youth Day, a recently proclaimed public holiday. It’s a beautiful day under a hot sun and bright blue sky but it’s hard to see what our youth have got to celebrate. Unemployment around 90%, inflation over 500%, queues for money, food and fuel and not even electricity today. Hopes of getting a job are extremely slim; manufacturing capacity predicted at 27% this year and a guarantee of tear gas, police truncheons and brutality if you dare to demonstrate.

For forty years Zimbabwe has been riddled with endemic corruption at the hands of the party in power. Nothing of any value: natural, man-made or donated has been spared: war victims compensation funds, cars, railways, aeroplanes, housing, oil, steel, gold, diamonds, airports, timber, electricity, banking and the list goes on and on. For the last two decades corruption has been rampant around land and agriculture from the allocation of seized farms to government cronies, security personnel VIPs and members of the judiciary to farm mechanisation funds, farm equipment, multiple farm holdings, the Command agriculture scheme, selling free inputs and this week the latest scandal of diverting subsidised maize has been exposed.

A Parliamentary Portfolio Committee heard that abuse of the subsidised maize facility was rife. Senior executives in the government’s GMB (Grain Marketing Board) were implicated: allocating subsidised maize to millers far in excess of their capacity. The millers were in turn diverting the maize to the black market and selling it to neighbouring countries, making huge profits in the process. There were accounts of trucks from the DR Congo offloading copper in South Africa and on their return journey through Zimbabwe filling their empty trucks with our subsidised maize. The corruption extends to border officials who stamp documents with false declarations as to the source of the cargo on trucks which proceed to exit Zimbabwe loaded with our cheap maize. Giving evidence to the Parliamentary Committee we heard that shops in Mozambique are selling Zimbabwean maize and callers to a radio programme saw our maize in shops in Malawi and further north on the route to the DR Congo.

Zimbabwe’s subsidised maize is imported grain and supposed to be assisting hungry and impoverished Zimbabweans. If you can find it, subsidised maize is supposed to sell for Z$70 for 10kgs but on the black market it sells for Z$140 and more than that in countries across our borders. Nothing is sacred in Zimbabwe, not even cheap food for starving people.

Twenty years ago this week farm invasions began in Zimbabwe and they have continued for much of the last two decades. In those horrific, terrifying days when we called police and begged them to help us when government supporters were burning, looting, destroying and evicting us and our employees from our homes and properties, the police would not come, saying it was political. That sentiment remains true today with government withdrawing leases from people who were allocated seized land but who are now perceived to be political rivals. An estimated one million people, (10% of our population at the time) who lived, worked on and owned those seized farms lost everything; we lost our homes, livelihoods, jobs, investments and pensions. But we were not the only losers. Twenty years later Zimbabwe as a whole continues to pay the price of the destruction of commercial agriculture.

This week the Zimbabwe government announced that they were introducing maximum farm sizes and would be taking away sections of land in excess of the new hectares. Another wave of partisan land distributions is inevitable. After twenty years Zimbabwe has still not accepted the fact that you need commercial farmers to grow the country’s food and not your political allies and supporters.

With well over half of our population dependent on International Food Aid two decades later, the statistics of Zimbabwe’s agricultural production say it all: (Figures from the Mundi Index)

Wheat (metric tons)324,000100,000
Maize (metric tons)2,148,000777,000
Soya (metric tons)79,00029,000
Cotton (217kg bags)590,00019,000
Sorghum (metric ton)100,00040,000

As I write this letter, our neighbours in South Africa are arriving at the same crossroad Zimbabwe faced twenty years ago: the expropriation of land without compensation. We hope they learn from us.

  • Cathy Buckle is the author of four children books. She has also written the non-fictional African Tears, the Zimbabwe Land Invasions, Beyond Tears: Zimbabwe’s tragedy, Innocent Victims: Rescuing the Stranded Animals of Zimbabwe’s Farm Invasions and Sleeping Like a Hare. The article was first published at www.cathybuckle.co.zw.