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Politicisation, theft of Cyclone Idai aid worsen survivors’ anguish in Zimbabwe

May 20, 2019
topic:Natural disaster
tags:#Cyclone Idai, #Zimbabwe, #ZANU-PF
by:Cyril Zenda
Simon Sithole (34) performs a delicate balancing act as he negotiates his way on a makeshift bridge over Nyahode River with a heavy load of bananas on his shoulder.

The river’s bridge was swept away when Cyclone Idai hit the Chimanimani area and other eastern parts of Zimbabwe in mid-March, cutting Sithole’s, and many other villages, off.

“This is what my family will be eating again today,” Sithole said. “We have been eating these bananas for several weeks now because we have nothing else to eat,” the dejected father of four said. He had come all the way from his village on the other side of the river hoping he could get some of the much-talked-of food aid. But it didn’t happen.

Sithole’s plight is similar to that of hundreds of others in the Chimanimani and Chipinge districts of Manicaland province that were severely affected by the devastating cyclone.

After the disaster that swept away schools, a police station and hundreds of villagers in mountainous areas, there was an international outpouring of grief. Zimbabweans and foreigners responded to the disaster by donating generously towards disaster relief efforts, but weeks after the calamity, nothing had changed for Sithole and other villagers.

“We only see trucks and helicopters moving back and forth and we hear of the aid on radios and that’s all,” said Fanny Mwenyendauya, an elderly man sitting on the other side of the delicate makeshift bridge at Copa business centre.

The over 250 000 survivors of Cyclone Idai have a new challenge to overcome as they try to rebuild their shattered lives… the politicisation and theft of aid that is meant to benefit them.

The disaster has presented an opportunity to members of the ruling ZANU-PF party to settle scores with those who oppose it, while some criminal elements within the severely under-paid civil service (who are heavily involved in the distribution of the aid) are also making the most of this opportunity to enrich themselves.

At a relief aid distribution centre at Duri village of Chimanimani, hundreds of villagers could be seen jostling to receive help for the first time. Previous aid had not reached them because members of the ruling ZANU-PF party had simply turned their internal party voter registers into beneficiaries’ lists. This meant anyone not appearing on these party lists – which are traditionally used to distribute food aid and farming inputs from both the government and the party – could not receive any help, even if they were in most need.

“What is being done here is very fair,” said Trymore Simoyi, one of the villagers. “I have managed to get something for the first time today unlike in the past few weeks when only members of the governing party (ZANU-PF) were getting the food,” he said.

Earlier that day, members of the party, with the help of some village heads had twice tried to replace the all-inclusive lists that the non-governmental organisations were using with their own “correct ones” but had been spurned by the army officials charged with the orderly distribution of the aid.

Legislator for Chimanimani West, Nokuthula Matsikenyere, a member of the ruling party and a councillor from her party, Lovemore Utseya, were repeatedly singled out for their role in the partisan aid distribution.

After video recordings and pictures of ZANU-PF officials superintending over aid distribution, senior ruling party members had difficulties explaining their involvement.

“What could have happened is that ZANU-PF youths offered to carry the food in the party-branded vehicles, leading some to assume that the food had been grabbed by ZANU-PF for distribution to its supporters,” said Local Government minister, July Moyo.

Despite evidence of partisan aid distribution, ZANU-PF spokesperson Simon Khaya-Moyo claimed members of his party were volunteers who genuinely wanted to help in the distribution of the aid.

Meanwhile, a military truck arrives at a Skyline distribution centre with various food items. Papers accompanying the goods show that included in the consignment are 360 litres of milk and 600 kilogrammes of rice, among other things. But only 240 litres of milk and 400 kg of rice are on the truck. The receiving officials are not fazed as they are used to such discrepancies, which they see increasing with each delivery. On their own part, they can also not account for large quantities of sugar and purified water that were part of the consignment that they signed for the previous evening. It is baffling how such huge quantities of goods could vanish from a distribution centre guarded round-the-clock by armed soldiers and police officers.

The mystery is only unravelled at police checkpoints along major roads leading from these districts as these missing items are found on buses, delivery vans and private cars and those arrested have difficulties explaining how they got them.

Questions are also being raised as to how the money donated towards reconstruction efforts is being used. The very poor quality of infrastructure being put up in some areas has further raised suspicion of more diversion of donated resources from the affected areas.

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Simon Sithole with his load of bananas on his shoulders.
© Cyril Zenda
Simon Sithole with his load of bananas on his shoulders.
Crossing the dicey makeshift bridge over Nyahode River.
© Cyril Zenda
Crossing the dicey makeshift bridge over Nyahode River.
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