Thousands starve as Zimbabwe blocks Catholic food aid

 The Zimbabwean government has ordered a Catholic food aid programme to be disbanded, the Daily News reported yesterday. Chris Gande in Bulawayo writes: Thousands of Binga villagers are in dire need of food after war veterans allegedly disrupted a Roman Catholic Church feeding programme for schoolchildren and expectant mothers. Ignatius Chombo, the Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, last month ordered the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) to disband the programme. After Chombo's attack on the CCJP, war veterans camped outside their warehouse in Binga. They have warned they will destroy trucks ferrying food for distribution under the scheme. In the run-up to the March presidential election, the government banned non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from distributing food aid, except through State channels. It alleged that they were using food to campaign for the MDC, but the opposition party has accused Zanu PF of punishing those who did not vote for it by supplying food only to its known supporters. Binga villagers said on Tuesday it was unjust and cruel of the government and war veterans to ban the food distribution over politics. Binga has serious food shortages with villagers surviving on hand-outs from the Catholic Church and Save-The-Children (UK), an NGO, since last year. Joseph Mwiinde, a villager from Siyachilaba, said the Catholics' feeding scheme had reduced the number of school dropouts. "A good number of children have now stopped going to school again because of hunger," he said. "They spend their time looking for maize." He said some villagers were going for days without food, surviving on roots and herbs. Peter Ndlovu, another villager, said a hungry man at Manjolo collapsed last week and was resuscitated with thin porridge. Bishop Robert Ndlovu, the Catholic diocese spokesman, said yesterday they had stopped distributing food to hundreds of expectant mothers at hospitals and more than 35 000 pupils in 34 primary schools and 17 pre-schools because of the war veterans' threats. He said: "We are puzzled by the government's attitude because we have nothing to do with politics. We were only feeding hungry people and this was being done transparently with the District Administrator being fully aware of our statistics." Ndlovu said he was not sure whether the war veterans were acting on Chombo's orders, because they set up camp outside the CCJP offices immediately after the minister's order to disband the CCJP initiative. Chombo said at the time: "What authority are they using to set up structures parallel to those of the government?" Ndlovu said he was not aware of what structures the minister was referring to because they were only a church organisation. Ndlovu denied Chombo's allegations and said their funds were secured by CAFOD, a United Kingdom church organisation, which had nothing to do with the British government. Chombo's attack on the CCJP came as a surprise as he had gone to Binga to ostensibly deal with council matters. The CCJP has been at loggerheads with the government since its involvement in the drafting of a report, Breaking The Silence: Building True Peace, on the Gukurahundi atrocities of the early 1980s. The report detailed atrocities committed by the Zimbabwe National Army's Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland and the Midlands, in which more than 20 000 people were massacred. source:

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