Mugabe admits for first time hunger exists in Zimbabwe

10th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

President Robert Mugabe has admitted for the first time that famine exists in his country.

10 March 2008

HARARE/ JOHANNESBURG - President Robert Mugabe has admitted for the first time that famine exists in his country.

"There is hunger in the country and a shortage of food," he was quoted as saying in the state-controlled weekly Sunday Mail.

He was responding at a rally at the weekend in the arid district of Plumtree in western Zimbabwe to appeals from regional governor Angeline Masuku and local ruling party functionaries who, according to the newspaper, had "pleaded" with Mugabe "to ensure the speedy distribution of food in the province as people were running out of food."

Observers say the admission is unprecedented as Mugabe has previously dismissed reports of famine as "Western propaganda."

In 2006, when questioned in an interview about a critical shortage of maize, the national staple, he said: "We have heaps of potatoes."

Sunday, Mugabe admitted that there were food shortages not only in the chronically dry western provinces of Matabeleland, but also in areas in eastern Zimbabwe.

International aid agencies have been feeding about 4 million people.

Following a summer season of record heavy rains that washed out crops, followed by almost a month of no rain in the critical growing season for maize, experts fear shortages may be worse than ever before.

Zimbabwe had a reputation as "the breadbasket of Africa," with regular surplus harvests of grain that were drawn on to supply aid agencies feeding famine stricken countries elsewhere in Africa. However, the country's agricultural industry began to collapse in 2000 after Mugabe launched a lawless campaign to drive the community of about 4,500 white farmers from their land and replaced them with ruling party functionaries.

Output by the country's agricultural industry has fallen since then by 70%.

Mugabe said Sunday a total of 530,000 tonnes of maize had been ordered from neighbouring countries, but due to "logistical problems," only 30,000 tonnes had been delivered.

Zimbabwean government officials had been despatched to Lusaka, Zambia, to help load onto rail wagons, because, he said, Zambian workers were "taking their time" on the job "as they did not understand the severity of the problem in Zimbabwe," he said.

He also promised that trains carrying maize on the southern railway route from Zambia would be authorized as an emergency measure to stop at sidings on the way to offload food for local communities. Mugabe's government declared this summer cropping season to be "the mother of all agricultural seasons," and claimed it had ample supplies of seed, fertilizers and fuel for farmers.

However, a report issued jointly by the government and UN agencies last week admitted that there had been severe shortages of all three commodities and that only 14 per cent of the targeted growing area had been planted.

Human rights agencies have reported that Mugabe's government maintains tight control over supplies of food and when it delivers supplies to famine-stricken areas, opposition supporters are routinely denied food, until they switch allegiance to Mugabe's ruling ZANU(PF) party.

[Copyright dpa 2008]

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