THE FAMINE FIELDS; He Has Torn His Country Apart with Oppression, Corruption and Murder. Now, as This Haunting Dispatch from Inside Zimbabwe Reveals, President Mugabe Is Systematically Starving His People to Death . . .SATURDAY DISPATCH

By Benson, Ross | Daily Mail (London), June 14, 2003 | Go to article overview

THE FAMINE FIELDS; He Has Torn His Country Apart with Oppression, Corruption and Murder. Now, as This Haunting Dispatch from Inside Zimbabwe Reveals, President Mugabe Is Systematically Starving His People to Death . . .SATURDAY DISPATCH


Benson, Ross, Daily Mail (London)


Byline: ROSS BENSON

THERE were 39 children huddled in the single- storey concrete shed that serves as a classroom. They were aged seven, and they all looked famished. I asked if any of them had been given anything to eat that day.

Only ten put up their hands.

It was nearly noon, but it would be another four hours before they would get the one small cup of maize meal which the school has made it a duty to provide for them. For most, that would be the only food they would eat all day.

It is no better for their teachers - and, indeed, is sometimes worse. 'We are all hungry, all of the time,' said Julius Ndlovu, the deputy head of the St Joseph Mission School, 150 miles south of Bulawayo in the parched scrub of Matabeleland.

He had come to work having had just a cup of weak tea, with no sugar because there isn't any. He will eat what little maize the children leave, and that is all he will get in this barren township where the shop shelves are empty and a loaf, if he could find one on the black market, would cost him his week's salary.

Mr Ndlovu used to play cricket but he was not in the least interested in how well or otherwise the touring Zimbabwean Test team has been doing in England this week. All he could think about was where his, and his students', next meal was coming from, and whether it would come at all.

'One day, we will all collapse,' he said, and he looked close to collapse already.

Outside, an old man was resting under the shade of an acacia tree, the swagger stick of tribal authority tucked under his arm. His name was Thomas Nkomo and he is the nephew of the late Joshua Nkomo, the guerilla leader turned politician who helped Zimbabwe win its independence.

'We are all starving here now,' he told me.

'But when we go to the authorities to complain and beg for food, we are taken into detention and accused of spreading sedition.

Then they beat us.

'My uncle was vice-president of this country, but that doesn't help. It doesn't protect me. It doesn't get me food.' He pointed his stick at the classroom. 'One day soon, they will start dying.' The tragedy is that thousands already have.

And the man responsible for this catastrophe is Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, the Marxist-Leninist in a Savile Row suit and a black Mercedes.

By ordering the seizure of the white-owned farms - often at gunpoint and always with violence - he has destroyed what was the breadbasket of southern Africa and turned it into what the leader of the Opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai, has called 'a basket case'.

FARMS which once employed 330,000 people and provided a livelihood for 1,600,000 of their dependants are reverting to wilderness. Cattle and the wildlife that was the pride of Africa has been shot and snared by people desperate for anything to eat.

Over the past two years, the production of wheat has collapsed from 280,000 tons to 50,000. The yield of maize, the staple diet here, has plummeted from 810,000 tons to 80,000 over the same period.

This is a country whose ageing dictator, in his merciless determination to cling to power, has turned food into a political weapon and made famine a policy of state.

Mugabe blames the current drought for the desperate plight afflicting Zimbabwe. He is lying.

Zimbabwe has always suffered from drought; yet it still managed to produce enough food to feed itself, with surplus to export.

Now all I see as I travel through the countryside is parched red earth, fallow fields and the emaciated faces of people being driven towards the grave.

And while the children at St Joseph's grow weak from hunger, Mugabe and his clique of supporters grow ever richer on a diet of breathtaking corruption.

Take the swindle on maize.

The farmers - those who are still working, that is - are compelled to sell it to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) for 130,000 Zimbabwe dollars a ton, which is barely enough to cover their costs. …

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