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Zimbabwe Riots Blamed on Food Shortages

In Zimbabwe, shortages of food are being blamed for two riots in recent days.

One of the riots took place Sunday, the other on Friday. Both happened because of shortages of maize, and in each case eyewitnesses blamed government supporters for the violence.

On Friday, a crowd in Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, began rioting because they claimed that the ruling ZANU-PF party was buying grain from the state and reselling it at huge profits.

Sunday's riot took place in Chitungwiza, a town near the capital. Witnesses say that it was started by members of a youth militia loyal to ZANU-PF. The witnesses said the militia attacked the police because they wouldn't allow the militia to control the queue.

The mayor of Chitungwiza, Misheck Shoko, said people in the queue went to the support of the police.

The government has not yet made any statement about either of the riots.

Disturbances over food have become almost an everyday occurrence in Zimbabwe's towns and cities. The situation in rural areas, especially those where food is being distributed by the World Food Program, is more orderly. Each month, the food agency distributes 50 kilograms of food to people in rural areas who are identified to be in need.

But World Food Program officials say there are many people their agency is not able to help, people who do not qualify for free food because they have money or are employed. However, these people are going hungry because there is no food in the shops, and the World Food Program's mandate does not allow it to sell food.

Patience Mukondomi is a primary school teacher in the district of Murambinda, about 300 kilometers south of Harare. She told VOA that she has three children and is desperate to buy food, but she said there is none in the stores in the district and she cannot get any food aid because she is employed.

Her story was repeated by others. The wife of a Zimbabwe soldier said she survived because her neighbor received grain from the World Food Program and shared some with her.

About 5,000 people, most of them peasant farmers, receive free food at Murambinda. All those who spoke with this reporter said they remembered the droughts of 1983 and 1992, and although life was hard then, they were able to buy food from the local stores.

One young man, who did not want to be identified, blamed the food shortages on the government. He said there was no food in the shops because President Mugabe's land reform program had chased nearly all productive white commercial farmers off the land.

He said the food shortages were caused by politics, not drought, as the government routinely claims.

About 12 million people live in Zimbabwe. It is estimated that half of them are in need of food aid.