The Zimbabwean Mail reports President Robert Mugabe met the beleaguered Zambian Vice President Guy Scott at State House in Harare yesterday to finalise the agreement for his party to import 150 000 tonnes of maize from Zambia to be used for campaign.
Last year The Zimbabwe Mail reported that Zambian Food Reserve Agency (FRA) signed a US$42.5 million contract with a shadowy Zimbabwean company linked to State Security agency CIO, Sakunda Trading of Zimbabwe for the sale of 300, 000 metric tonnes of maize in a deal believed to be a secret pact between President Mugabe and his Zambian counter-part Michael Sata.
Ailing dictator Sata has pledged his backing for Robert Mugabe re-election.
FRA public relations officer Mwamba Siame has said in a statement issued in Lusaka that the sale of the 300,000 metric tonnes of maize to Zimbabwe will reduce the surplus stock kept by the agency to 330, 435 metric tonnes.
In Zimbabwe, maize procurement is carried out through the State Company, the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) and paid by the Ministry of Finance but sources said the deal has been financed by a diamond company Mbada Private Limited which is run by a cabal of military and Zanu-PF officials.
On its website Sakunda says it is an Energy company, and claims its largest supplier of liquid fuels and other petrochemicals, and business of providing energy solutions that which it says keep the wheels of industry and the economy turning.
Sources said the company is bogus and linked to high-level Zanu-PF and the CIO.
In February this year, the Zambian Food Reserve Agency of Zambia banned exports to Zimbabwe through private traders in a deal sources said was agreed by Sata and Mugabe.
In an interview, Zimbabwean Grain Millers’ Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) chairman Mr Tafadzwa Musarara said Zambia’s Food Reserve Agency refused to release the grain although all due payments had been made.
He said about 12 000 tonnes belong to National Foods and the remainder to Alpha Grain.
“The white maize export ban imposed by Zambia in December 2012 has resulted in Zimbabwean millers being unable to collect pre-paid white maize from the FRA and private traders. We are owed a total of 17 000 tonnes, which is worth up to US$7 million at current commercial value,” he said.
Musarara said millers who paid for their consignments are in a quandary as Zambian authorities are refusing to open negotiations. Lusaka has also refused to refund the millers in lieu of the outstanding deliveries, he added.
Musarara said some parts of Zimbabwe are experiencing maize meal shortages after the Grain Marketing Board ran out of maize to supply millers last month.
Industry and Commerce Minister Professor Welshman Ncube said it would not be difficult to thrash out an agreement with the Zambians.
He said several SADC protocols on free trade could be used to recover the grain.
Speaking to journalists after the hour-long meeting, Scott said Zambia was expected to start delivering the maize soon.
“It should start next week if everything goes according to our best expectations. We discussed issues revolving around maize to ensure none of us lose any people. None of us should have a shortfall of maize this year.
“Basically, we know what we are doing and what we are trying to achieve.”
Although Scott did not disclose the value of the consignment, The Herald is reliably informed that Zimbabwe had already made a down payment in the region of US$3 million.
Scott was accompanied by Foreign Affairs Minister Effron Lungu and Agriculture Minister Robert Sichinga.
After meeting President Mugabe, Scott flew back to Zambia and was seen off at the Harare International Airport by Vice President Joice Mujuru and Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Joseph Made.
Made said in an interview after the meeting that the 150 000 tonnes of maize would see the country having enough grain when added to the harvests taking place in areas that were not affected by drought.
He said Zimbabweans should be grateful to Zambia for prioritising the country in the light of a high demand of maize by other countries in the sub-region.
“That matter has now been resolved at the highest level,” said Made. “The ministers of agriculture from both countries met and the Vice Presidents met and Ministers of Foreign Affairs were present.
“The public is being assured that the maize imports are being done at the highest level.”
Made said logistics were already in place to move the grain from Zambia with the cooperation of the northern neighbours.
“The movement of the maize from Zambia requires meticulous work,” he said. “We will be concentrating on the logistics so that we get the maize timely.
“We will be under pressure to move the grain before the early showers that usually fall in August or September so that the grain is not affected by rains.”
Made said the grain would be moved to “strictly priority areas” which did not harvest anything due to drought this season.
The areas include Matabeleland South, Masvingo, southern parts of Manicaland, southern parts of Midlands and some parts of Matabeleland North.
“These are areas where there is nothing at the moment because of the drought,” said Made. “People in the northern parts of the country are at least begining to harvest.”
Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF has been accused of using food aid to build political support ahead of general elections in Zimbabwe later this year.
Officials in the south are said to be circumventing local, multiparty councillors who previously distributed food aid, instead giving grain and rice donated by the president only to Zanu PF loyalists to distribute.
They in turn have allegedly been demanding to see Zanu PF membership cards before they hand over food parcels.
An estimated 1.6 million Zimbabweans are dependent on food aid because of severe dry spells and hailstorms which wiped up to 80 per cent of crops in some areas.
There are fears that with a new harvest approaching and forecasts of erratic rainfall, more could soon be affected.
Analysts say that with international pressure on Zimbabwe’s politicians to avoid the bloodshed of previous elections, coercion tactics such as the partisan distribution of food will increasingly be deployed.
“If they are trying to avoid outright violence in the next elections, the manipulation of food supplies becomes part of an array of tactics that can be used instead,” said Piers Pigou, from International Crisis Group
Several reports have surfaced about such practices in Masvingo and Matabeleland South, two of the worst-affected provinces.
In Matobo, south of Bulawayo and hit by cattle deaths and crop failures, it was reported that only wards represented by Zanu PF councillors were being given food.
Sithembile Mlotshwa, an MDC senator, told Newsday that supporters were turned away from a village school last month where wheat was being distributed.
“I was told that supporters of the MDC-T were told to move away as the wheat was meant for card-carrying Zanu PF members only,” he said. “Some of the wheat was distributed at a shop belonging to a known Zanu PF activist in a move to frustrate the MDC-T supporters.”
Andrew Langa, the Zanu PF Matabeleland South chairman, denied the claims, saying it was not his party’s policy to discriminate on the basis of political allegiance.
“I am not aware of that and I doubt that anyone could consider party affiliation when distributing food meant for Zimbabweans,” he said.
Douglas Mwonzora, the MDC-T’s national spokesman, said he was concerned that such activities were increasing.
“Zanu PF is using food as a political weapon,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “The drought has made people more and more dependent on food handouts and more likely to act in Zanu PF’s favour in order to be fed.”
He said that the MDC-T’s ministers, who sit in a fractious coalition government with Zanu PF, had sought a resolution in cabinet condemning the activity.
“Although the MDC is represented at ministerial level, the government bureaucrats are still Zanu PF, and determine the manpower that does the distribution.”