Say one thing for Bob, he's got class http://news.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2003/08/20/wzim20.xml&sSheet=/news/2003/08/20/ixworld.html Zimbabwe snatches control of food relief By Peta Thornycroft in Harare (Filed: 20/08/2003) Zimbabwe's government banned international relief agencies from distributing food aid yesterday and demanded they hand over their stocks immediately. Aid groups were later holding crisis talks. They say more than three million Zimbabweans need food aid, with the number expected to rise above five million - more than half the population - by the end of the year. President Robert Mugabe's authorities have been accused of handing out relief according to political allegiance. The government denies the charges. Local elections are due this month and critics fear that Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party wants to use the food to influence the outcome. July Moyo, the welfare minister, issued a memorandum yesterday, insisting that food must be distributed in rural areas by bodies approved by the government - including its own agencies. "No international donor can tell us that the government should not be involved in food distribution when we are the ones who asked for the food in the first place," he was quoted as saying by the privately owned Daily News. Officials from the World Food Programme, the United Nations agency that has fed five million people over the past year, were discussing the directive with partner organisations and seeking clarity from the government. "We are trying to get more information," Luis Clemens, a WFP spokesman, said. "The situation is worrying." Poor rains have hit crops and grazing in Zimbabwe - once the breadbasket of southern Africa - while Mr Mugabe's chaotic land reforms continue to devastate agricultural production. Most of the food aid being sent to the country is paid for by Britain, the European Union and America. A large consignment of EU-donated grain is due to arrive in the next few weeks. The directive demands that all non-government organisations surrender their food stocks to the government and no longer select beneficiaries, as they have been doing in a well-organised emergency relief programme over the past year. When Zimbabwe had grain stocks of its own and provided a minor work-for-food relief programme last year it was found to be withholding assistance to tens of thousands of opposition supporters. Three months after the latest harvest, the government has no grain to distribute to people on the brink of starvation, including supporters of the ruling Zanu-PF. The staple maize meal is available in some urban shops, but is too expensive for most people to buy, according to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. Relief groups doubt that the government has the capacity or skill to arrange effective food distribution on the scale required. "They will feed only their own supporters and we will not stand for this," an NGO source said. Andrew Nongogo, of the anti-corruption organisation Transparency International, said: "There are local government elections coming up and this would be one way for the government to let people see it is assisting them. At present, every person getting food aid knows it comes from foreign donors."