Thousands of families living at Chingwizi stare starvation in the face after soldiers, acting on instructions from the government last week dismantled a large shed that served as storage for donated food at the transit camp in Mwenezi.
BY WALTER MARWIZI
The move that dismayed thousands of hungry people at the camp, is part of a concerted effort by government to force thousands of people out of the camp.
A new tent has been erected in some bushy area, 17 kilometres away where government wants villagers to be resettled on dry one hectare pieces of land without compensation. Officials at the camp told villagers they could only access the food if they left the camp, The Standard was told.
The move threatens the lives of over 2 500 hungry families that were dumped in Nuanetsi ranch in February after floods ravaged the basin of Tokwe Mukosi dam which is still under construction.
Many of these families were never directly affected by the floods as they lived on higher ground but were however indiscriminately forced out of the area by a government keen to establish a game park around what will become Zimbabwe’s largest inland lake.
Once well to do villagers left in their fields bountiful crops only to end up in the Chingwizi dustbowl where they have survived on food handouts since then.
Initially the Zanu PF government had promised them five-hectare pieces of land for resettlement but it has shifted goal posts and is now offering one-hectare pieces of land for each family, something that has been fiercely resisted by the villagers.
A few weeks ago, 10 government ministers were booed at Chingwizi after they tried to convince the villagers to be resettled. These were Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo, Jonathan Moyo (Information), Joseph Made (Agriculture), Douglas Mombeshora (Lands), Dzikamai Mavhaire (Energy), Patrick Chinamasa (Finance), Saviour Kasukuwere (Environment), David Parirenyatwa (Health), Kembo Mohadi (Home Affairs) and Kudakwashe Bhasikiti (Provincial Affairs).
Villagers told The Standard last week that since the embarrassing visit by the ministers, life had never been the same again as government was coming up with devious means to force them to leave the camp, including using food as a weapon to crush their resistance.
While on earlier visits to Chingwizi, villagers were keen to have their names and pictures published in The Standard newspaper, this time around their safety was now a matter of concern.
“We have started to see a heavy presence of police here, they are central intelligence organisation operatives that are staying at the camp,” said a 42-year-old man who preferred anonymity for fear of victimisation.
“We were shocked to discover that even soldiers have been deployed here. Some of them spend the day in sheebens behaving like they are simple villagers. It’s now dangerous to speak your mind, there are too many security personnel here. After we embarrassed the ministers, they appear now too determined to intimidate us, they want to strike fear in our hearts so that we can leave this camp. We used to get food, now it’s scarce”.
Just 10 metres from where the man spoke lay the ruins of what was once a giant tent that housed all the food that was donated by well-wishers. The tent represented a source of life for the 18 000 people who are not engaged in any productive activity and only survive on handouts.
A similar structure has now been erected 17 kilometres away from the transit camp where the government intends to resettle the villagers. The move means that all the food that will be donated will be taken to the bushy area, far away from the intended beneficiaries.
“We have been told anyone who wants food should go there, otherwise we will starve here. It is clear food is now being used to force us to accept a one-hectare piece of land,” said a young woman in her 30s.
The Standard learnt the move could lead to starvation in the camp as villagers were insisting on only moving when they had been compensated and allocated five-hectare pieces of land.
There was drama last week when a donor was reported to have insisted that food that had been commandeered to the bushy area by government be returned to the transit camp.
The donation with food packs inscribed Canada Food Grains, a Christian response to Hunger was finally given to the flood victims last Monday. Villagers who talked to The Standard urged all donors to insist on their food being directed to the transit camp.
“We want the world out there to know that the food they are donating is not reaching intended beneficiaries. It is being taken to some place where it can be looted. Donors should insist on it being delivered here,” said another woman.