When Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, announced that his country had enjoyed a "bumper harvest", Alice Gela was sending her children to school without breakfast yet again. Some days, the family does not eat at all. While Gela stared into her bare cupboards, 40,000 tons of food from the Catholic Relief Services was lying unused not far away, according to Pius Ncube, the Archbishop of Bulawayo. Mugabe has banned all foreign food aid, even the UN World Food Programme. Although his own countrymen have begun starving to death, he accuses the West of trying to "choke" his country with food and tells them to send it elsewhere in Africa. "The government is shouting that there is plenty of food, but where is it then?" asked Angilacala Ndlovu, deputy mayor of the southern city of Bulawayo, where government records show that 160 people have recently died of malnutrition. Last week a parliamentary committee flatly contradicted Mugabe's claim of a bumper crop and warned that the country was facing serious food shortages. Mugabe responded by directing Zimbabwean television to show endless film of silos full of grain which critics claim is library footage. Even weather forecasts now have to be approved by his office so there can be no talk of drought. Under Gela's corrugated iron roof on Friday there was no food. No cooking oil, no flour, none of the staple maize. The idea of milk or meat raised laughter. Infected by HIV, Gela's wasted body lies on a dirty blanket, tended by her eldest daughter Sandra, who has two children of her own. Gela watches dull-eyed and powerless as her five-year-old son complains that his belly is empty. Twelve family members live in the three-roomed house, one of which is let to a lodger. On the wall is a framed 20-year service award in Zimbabwe Post and Telecom for her husband, Wilford. After he lost his job and joined the 70% of Zimbabweans unemployed, he left for Botswana to try to earn some money. The family have heard nothing from him for months. All of this is just a few miles south of the lush Queens Club where the England cricket team will play two matches in their controversial tour of Zimbabwe, which starts this Friday. On their journey between the Holiday Inn and the pitch, the cricketers might be surprised by the air of normality in a country that is on its knees. Zimbabweans are stoical people, battered into submission by Mugabe's henchmen and youth militia. The traffic lights still work, the bougainvillea is flowering deepest pink and at first sight all seems well, apart from the mile-long queues at petrol stations and banks. But enter any one of the neat bungalows in Emganwini township, where Gela lives, and one encounters similar stories of struggle and hardship. With parliamentary elections due next March, critics say Mugabe plans to use government control of food to starve out those who oppose him. "Food is a powerful weapon," said David Coltart, legal affairs spokesman of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. "The banning of foreign feeding programmes mean the government controls all food and the clear message is: either you vote the right way or you and your children will starve." Source: ZW News
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