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Zimbabwe Approval Delay Halts S. African Humanitarian Shipment


The South African Council of Churches has been waiting since the beginning of August for Zimbabwe government import approval for a shipment of more than 37 tons of humanitarian assistance. The aid is destined for Zimbabweans who recently lost their homes and businesses in the government's forced removal campaign.

For weeks, three truckloads of maize, beans, cooking oil, and blankets have been ready to leave for Zimbabwe.

On August 1 they were sealed by South African customs officials, and blessed by Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndugane. But within hours the South African Council of Churches, the SACC, which has coordinated the relief, was told that the Zimbabwe government required proof that the maize meal was not from genetically-modified crops.

The Zimbabwe government then refused to accept a certification from the supplier - demanding that the South African government provide one.

This was done a week ago, but SACC spokesman Ron Steele says the Zimbabwe government has still not approved the shipment.

"Unfortunately these are being held up now for over two weeks because of paperwork," he said. "All that we require from the Zimbabwean authorities is a permit allowing us to bring the goods in duty free, and so far this has been an ongoing struggle to get this paperwork done."

Pearson Chigiji, the political officer at the Zimbabwe High Commission in Pretoria told VOA that the necessary paperwork to obtain the import permit has been forwarded to Harare; and he said, it is receiving the full attention of the Zimbabwe government. But he declined to say how long it would take and refused to provide contact information for officials in Harare who would know.

Reverend Steele said thousands of people have been dumped in the completely undeveloped camps without power, or access to clean water. He said that at the camps he went to, the government had provided only chemical toilets and plastic sheeting. He says that food and blankets are urgently needed and that the delay in receiving the import permit is causing a great deal of frustration.

"One does not want to say they are obstructing, but they are playing by the rules and just making it very, very difficult - the bureacracy and the red tape," he said. "I know that everybody is very frustrated, the church leaders here in South Africa are now really getting quite angry about the delay and I know they have taken up the matter with the South African authorities."

Last month U.N. envoy Anna Tibaijuka issued a damning report on the crackdown, saying that 700,000 people had lost their homes or livelihoods and that a further 2.4 million had been affected to varying degrees. The Zimbabwe government has issued its own 45-page report rejecting the U.N. findings.

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