As southern Africa battles the coronavirus pandemic, Amnesty International warns that in some areas, authorities are tying food aid to recipients' political affiliation. It says the problem is especially acute in rural Zimbabwe, where people who don’t belong to the ruling party are being denied the means to survive.
In the impoverished country, lockdowns triggered by the coronavirus pandemic and shuttered markets have made it hard for people to work or find food. Millions are dependent on the government for sustenance.
In a report published this week, the London-based human rights group said some are being denied food because they do not support the ruling ZANU-PF party.
One such person, who wished to be identified only as Peter, lives in Murehwa, about 100 kilometers east of Harare. He told VOA that opposition members in his rural community are being treated as second-class citizens.
"It’s really tough here. Local leaders here are from ZANU-PF and say anyone who belongs to any other party does not get food aid. They say we must get it from the parties we support. Even if our names are on the list of deserving people, we are skipped," said Peter, who looks after seven people affected by the lockdown.
Robert Shivambu, Amnesty International's spokesman in southern Africa, says this pattern of partisan food distribution has been emerging across the region ever since the coronavirus pandemic arrived.
“Anyone who does not have the means to make a living must be provided with food regardless of his perceived political affiliation. The distribution of food aid along party political lines is completely unacceptable and it is undermining the protection measures that governments have committed to implement to uphold the right to food for everyone,” he said.
Shivambu added that in Zimbabwe, the weakest are suffering the most.
“In Zimbabwe partisan food distribution has affected those groups in the most vulnerable and marginalized situation, including older persons, child-headed families, pregnant women and those with disabilities,” Shivambu said.
Even before the lockdowns in Zimbabwe, more than 4.3 million people in the country urgently needed assistance because of the ailing economy and recurring droughts, according to the U.N.’s World Food Program.
Energy Mutodi, Zimbabwe’s junior minister of information, dismissed the Amnesty International report.
“Those are falsehoods. We disagree in totality with those allegations. We are giving food aid to every citizen who is deserving. We have had red flags raised [by community leaders] about people who are suffering because of the lockdown, who cannot afford to put food on the table, and the Ministry of Social Welfare is inviting such people to approach its offices and these have been helped indiscriminately,” Mutodi said.
South Africa and Angola are also mentioned in the Amnesty report as countries where authorities are distributing food aid along partisan lines.