THE South African Council of Churches’ consignment of 40 tonnes of food and other provisions to help Zimbabweans affected by the clean-up operation could arrive in the country this weekend after assurances from the South African Departmen
t of Agriculture that the food was not genetically modified.
The consignment that contains 37 tonnes of an assortment of food, including cooking oil, beans and maize, plus 4 500 blankets, was still in Johannesburg by yesterday morning.
SACC spokesman Rev Ron Steele said the dispatching of the relief aid was delayed after Zimbabwe indicated that it wanted official documentation that proved that the food was not genetically modified.
“We are resolving the issue,” Steele said. “Right now we have just received clearance from the SA Department of Agriculture showing that the food is not genetically modified. We are now waiting for a response from the Zimbabwe authorities.”
He was on Wednesday quoted in the South African media as saying: “It will be sent within the next 24 hours, hopefully.”
The consignment from the SACC has been stuck in Johannesburg after the government demanded a genetically modified (GMO) clearance certificate for the maize to be allowed into the country.
The secretary general of SACC Eddie Makeu said that he was beoming impatient with waiting for the government’s response. He also said that the consignment will arrive at the Beitbridge border post tomorrow morning.
“We have now become impatient and so we are moving the consignment to the border. We are aware of the desperate situation in Zimbabwe,” said Reverend Makue.
The importation of the food has caused a stir with Zimbabwean politicians accusing the SACC of using the food aid to gain political mileage.
Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) secretary general Densen Mafinyane yesterday told the Independent that the food was still in Johannesburg but expressed hope that it would arrive in the country soon.
“We are still awaiting a GMO clearance certificate from the government and we are working flat out to ensure that the aid gets to Zimbabwe as soon as possible,” Mafinyane said.
The delays in bringing the aid into the country come two days after the SACC said that country’s Department of Agriculture had sent letters to the SACC confirming that the maize in the consignment was not genetically modified.
On prospects that the government was attempting to block the food aid, Mafinyane said it did not seem likely since that was a requirement that has been there before the sourcing of the SACC food aid.
“There is nothing new about this law,” said Mafinyane. “What could be delaying everything though is the government red tape and we hope to get over that soon.”
This is not the first time that government has attempted to bar food aid on the grounds that it could be genetically modified.
At the height of a crippling drought two years ago the government blocked a World Food Programme (WFP) consignment but later allowed the food through after the intervention of the international community.
The SACC said a second consignment of food aid will be sent to Zimbabwe at the end of this month. – Staff Writers.