Zimbabwe seeks massive food imports

POSTED AT 1:34 PM EST    Friday, March 22
Associated Press

PhotoZimbabweans wait hopefully at a Harare supermarket for the chance to buy some food Friday. Photo: Themba Hadebe/AP

Harare — Zimbabwe announced plans Friday to import huge amounts of food to stave off starvation caused by drought and the agricultural chaos following the occupation of white-owned farms by ruling party militants.

Agriculture Minister Joseph Made said the government is seeking 200,000 tons of corn, the staple food, from Kenya, Brazil and Argentina. Over the next 18 months, the country will need to import 1.5 million tons of corn, state radio reported.

The fertile, southern African nation was once considered the breadbasket of the region. Now Zimbabweans wait in food lines in hopes of getting bags of increasingly rare corn meal. In November, the government ordered 200,000 tons of corn valued at $25-million (U.S.) from neighboring South Africa.

The main labour federation, meanwhile, conceded the failure of its national strike to protest state-backed intimidation surrounding this month's disputed presidential elections.

The few businesses that had observed the strike reopened Friday, which was to have been the last day of the three-day protest, said Lovemore Matombo, head of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. He said new security laws hindered strike organizers and "heavy-handed" threats by the authorities and bias in the dominant state media stopped workers joining the action.

At a meeting next month, leaders of the federation will consider possible further action to protest political violence that has left at least 150 people — most of them opposition supporters — dead since 2000.

Earlier Friday, hundreds of farmers, black and white, gathered for the funeral of Terry Ford, 51, who was shot in the head after being chased down and beaten Monday at his farm west of the capital. Mr. Ford was the tenth white farmer killed since the often-violent farm occupations began two years ago. Ruling party militants, with tacit government backing, have demanded the farms be redistributed to landless blacks.

Mark Ford, 28, told the mourners that his father "just wanted somewhere to live and farm."

Noami Raaff, Mr. Ford's fiancée, held the couple's Jack Russell terrier, Squeak, in her arms. The dog had huddled by his master's body for several hours after the murder.

"It is a time of loss and great tragedy. It is not a time to give up and throw our hands in the air," Peter McKenzie said as he officiated the funeral.

The farm occupations, along with floods and droughts, have decimated the country's harvest as its agriculture-based economy collapsed.

Last year, Zimbabwe produced 1.54 million tons of corn, down from 2.1 million tons in 2000. Harvests of tobacco, the main cash crop, also are expected to be down this year, by as much as 30 per cent.

Foreign loans, aid and investment have dried up. Mining has been plagued by shortages of equipment and fuel and tourism, the third-largest hard currency earner, has fallen by 80 per cent.

Emergency food distribution by the World Food Program to 500,000 people facing starvation resumed Thursday in south and western Zimbabwe, U.N. officials said. The distribution was halted a week before the March 9-11 presidential elections so as not to "coincide with political concerns," the WFP said.

Official election results showed President Robert Mugabe winning 56 per cent of the vote to 42 per cent for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who claimed the election was tainted and has called for a new vote.

Most foreign election observer groups agreed that the election had been held under unfair procedures that favoured Mr. Mugabe.