THE politicisation and manipulation of food as a campaign tool by Zanu PF has come under spotlight in the ongoing case where the opposition MDC candidate for Gweru Rural Ren
son Gasela is contesting ruling party candidate, Josphat Madubeko’s victory in the March 2005 parliamentary election.
Gasela says the politicisation of food by Madubeko and his election agents tilted the scales against him since most of the villagers at the time were facing drought and had no option but to vote for Zanu PF to receive food.
Zanu PF has in previous elections come under fire over allegations of using food as a campaign tool.
The electoral case in which Gasela is challenging his loss to Madubeko has revealed a lot of politicking and use of food as an election strategy by Zanu PF, especially in rural areas where village headmen are responsible for deciding who gets food.
Gasela, the MDC’s agriculture spokesman, wants the court to nullify Madubeko’s victory claiming the election was held under a climate of fear and violence directed at his supporters who he says were also denied food.
In leading evidence, Nicholas Mathonsi, the lawyer representing Gasela, alleged that Madubeko and his election agents systematically used food as a weapon to force villagers to vote for Zanu PF.
“We have evidence of food manipulation. The respondent and his chief election agent, Thomson Ncube, systematically used food as a weapon to force hungry villagers to vote for Zanu PF,” Mathonsi told the court last week.
“Zanu PF officials led by the area councillor were in total control of food distribution and they decided who got food and who did not.
“The councillor is the one who sources the food from the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) and is the one again who leads the food committee in the area while the headman, who is also sympathetic to Zanu PF, keeps a list of who is allowed to buy the food when it arrives.”
Mathonsi said villagers paid chiefs, who are known Zanu PF supporters, for the food that they received. He said when the GMB maize was delivered the councillor would take control of the distribution process.
In previous elections, especially the 2000 parliamentary and the 2002 presidential elections, allegations of food politicisation were levelled against Zanu PF, provoking an international outcry.
In 2002 Human Rights Watch published a report titled The politicisation of food in Zimbabwe which stated that the Zimbabwean government and the ruling Zanu PF manipulated the distribution of grain through a registration process where known opposition supporters were ferreted out.
The opposition has accused Zanu PF of abusing food distributed through the GMB while Zanu PF has accused non-governmental organisations working inside the country of using food aid to campaign for the opposition.
In October 2002, members of the Zanu PF militia and war veterans in Binga ordered a local NGO, Save the Children, to stop a feeding programme alleging that officials were favouring MDC supporters. Binga is an MDC stronghold.
In the same year, the World Food Programme (WFP) suspended relief operations in Insiza district after ruling party militia stole three tonnes of maize and handed it to Zanu PF supporters a few days before a by-election.
Just this year, the MDC provincial executive in Matabeleland South wrote to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) detailing how the Zanu PF MP for Insiza and deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism, Andrew Langa, was barring MDC supporters from purchasing maize meal in the area.
During the two weeks of the election petition, several witnesses took to the stand to testify that Madubeko and his election agents were responsible for the distribution of food and manipulated food in the run up to the parliamentary election.
Madubeko and his supporters deny the charge and allege that Gasela is a bad loser clutching at straws to save face over his clear loss to the Zanu PF candidate.
A witness for Madubeko collapsed and fainted under intense cross-examination from Mathonsi on how food was distributed in rural Gweru before the election.
The witness, Another Sibanda, a councillor for the area, allegedly called meetings on the pretext that they were intended to discuss food and development issues.
Mathonsi alleged that Sibanda was abusing his position as councillor by calling for the food and development meetings when he knew they were Zanu PF campaign meetings.
In his own personal account, Gasela told the court that he lost to the former headman because the ruling party used food to buy votes from the Gweru Rural constituents.