‘HUNGRY people cannot be good at learning or producing anything, except perhaps violence,” said mid-20th century American entertainer Pearl Bailey.
This crude observation is true for many countries on the continent where children go to bed hungry while their equally hungry parents butcher each other instead of tilling the land. Vice-President Joice Mujuru earlier this week made disclosures which not only contradicted the official line with regards to the causes of hunger in this country, but also brought out the relationship between violence and hunger, a very useful observation.
Speaking at an International Women’s Day event in Bindura last Sunday, Mujuru said Zimbabweans went to war so that they could enjoy various freedoms.
She said people were free to join political parties of their choice just as they chose the churches they wanted to go to.
“During the liberation war, we fought a repressive system. We were not fighting a particular race.
“During the war, we were united as a single family because we were fighting a common enemy. Why not today?” she asked.
“We used to be the bread basket of Africa, but now we are even failing to produce enough for our own consumption because we were pulling down each other because of inter-party differences,” she said.
She did not however tell us which common enemy Zimbabweans must be united against today. Even in independent Zimbabwe the people still have to put up with repression which has been a major threat to peace and nationhood. Mujuru is right though that we have become a hungry people because “we are pulling each other down”. This is a useful admission by the VP as it debunks her party’s mantras on the causes of hunger in this country. The authors of hunger are politicians who use the poor as pawns in the power game.
The violence which erupted in this country last year and in previous years can be traced back to powerful political forces who recruit the poor and the hungry to butcher fellow villagers under the guise of preserving national sovereignty and protecting resources, especially land.
It is the politics of land that has brought poverty here. We are all too familiar with dishonest headlines like: “Mugabe blames West for Zimbabwe’s food shortages”; “10-year drought to blame for food shortages – Mugabe”; “Mugabe says Zimbabwe’s food shortages artificial”, and “Mugabe blames sanctions for food shortages”.
Building institutions of peace in this country as envisaged in the national healing programme must have food self-sufficiency as a key component. A society that is dependent on food handouts from donors or from political parties is vulnerable and susceptible to manipulation. Only very recently, we have been getting reports that party alignments are still being used to direct food distribution in Matabeleland North.
Hungry villagers still line up behind Zanu PF or MDC councillors to get food aid.Â These are people beholden to politicians and political parties. It is not only food aid that is still subject to this kind of manipulation. It extends to the disbursement of monies for small projects, access to basic amenities and even the allocation of land by government officials and traditional leaders.
It would therefore be a major tragedy for this country to go into elections again when we cannot produce enough to feed ourselves. The promise of an election in the next 18 months is too ghastly to contemplate as long as this country is hungry.
With food shortages, rural people will spend more time at hopeless party meetings where they are told that the source of their hunger is sanctions, or poor leadership or Gono and so on. They will be taught the language of hate; that is to hate hunger and whoever is responsible for it and their supporters. Fighting your neighbour becomes a contest to end hunger. Powerful men and women who can bring food to a village can also call the poor villagers to arms, to dispossess others and to punish those with full stomachs. This is the stupid politics of violence.
We have achieved very little in years of food shortages other than bringing destruction to ourselves and to institutions that have traditionally safeguarded our national ethos and dignity. Nzara inobvisa hunhu! Our national healing will not amount to much as long as we are hungry.
Those who have been entrusted to work towards a more peaceful, just and sustainable Zimbabwe must therefore help make ending hunger a major priority.
For peace to have meaning to many who have known only suffering, it must be translated into bread or mealie meal, shelter, health, and education, as well as freedom and human dignity – a steadily better life.
If peace is to be secure, long-suffering and long-starved people in this country must begin to realise the promise of a new day and a new life. That is national healing.
BY VINCENT KAHIYA