STATE security agents and government officials last week descended on Bulawayo executive mayor Japhet Ncube and the city’s town clerk Moffat Ndlovu to interrogate the two before demanding an exp
lanation of malnutrition-related death figures compiled by the city’s Health department.
The interrogation of the two officials follows Information minister Jonathan Moyo’s threat that government would deal with Ncube and the city’s Director of Health, Zanele Hwalima, for allegedly peddling false information on the city’s malnutrition deaths.
Six security agents from the CIO and the police’s law and order department last week on Tuesday visited the mayor at his City Hall offices and interrogated him on the malnutrition deaths figures before leaving with several official documents from the city health department.
The following day Bulawayo acting provincial administrator Edson Mbedzi summoned the town clerk Moffat Ndlovu to his office and quizzed him on how council compiled statistics pertaining to malnutrition.
Ncube confirmed the visit by the state security agents but said he was happy that the issue was well explained to them.
“We had a team from the police and the CIO last week and they wanted to find out how we gathered the information on malnutrition deaths and they were shocked to hear that the figures came from government hospitals,” Ncube said.
Local Government minister Ignatious Chombo has also threatened to deal with the Bulawayo mayor for giving the independent media “false” information on malnutrition-related deaths.
Ncube confirmed that Moffat Ndlovu was summoned to the administrator’s office and state security agents and the government officials had been made to believe that malnutrition-related deaths records were a council initiative.
The Bulawayo council is dominated by opposition MDC councilors and Chombo has been trying to hamstring its activities the same way he has emasculated the Harare City Council.
“They were surprised to hear that we compile the statistics from the Registrar of Births and Deaths who collect the information from government hospitals,” Ncube said of the investigating officials.
The Bulawayo mayor has vowed not to be intimidated. He said the malnutrition figures helped council plan its child supplementary feeding programmes.
The council is running child supplementary feeding programmes for 13 000 children under five years in all its clinics in the city.
The interrogation of the two officials came at a time when the council had produced another report detailing more malnutrition-related deaths in the city. The latest report indicates that a further 12 people died of malnutrition in the last month.
The latest figure brings to 173 the number of people who have succumbed to malnutrition in Bulawayo alone.
The government has in the past hotly disputed that people in the country are starving despite its own initiative to introduce a feeding scheme for needy people in Beitbridge two weeks ago.
The government has been involved in a war of figures with international donor agencies on the country’s projected harvest for 2004.