In July 2020, the globe paid attention to the crisis in Zimbabwe. Major international publications opined articles. #ZimbabweanLivesMatter exploded as a social media rally, propped up by influential profiles. Young online activists shared petitions, link-trees and appeals. Then the world forgot. A long September of silence followed. But, the people of Zimbabwe still suffer.
In that period, I set out to collect information about the crisis in Zimbabwe and the best ways the international community could assist. Working with student researchers from Zimbabwe, we produced an Info Pack and a Food Aid campaign. The Zimbabweans that I worked with on the Info Pack asked not to be named. Political repression from the Zimbabwean government is a persistent threat.
Food sovereignty, a better approach
What is most important right now is addressing the immediate needs of people in Zimbabwe. After this, the international community needs to support initiatives that will address needs in the future. The dominant model for food aid relies on large amounts of money to purchase or create food packs to deliver. This strategy is costly, devoid of indigenous food interests and imposes the food interests of donors.
An alternative strategy is to develop food sovereignty, the ownership of food systems, within Zimbabwe. This includes food gardens, food kitchens and organic food markets. When it comes to direct food relief, this approach requires working together with local communities, purchasing the food that they ask for, and allowing them control over food production.
A good example of a Zimbabwean food effort is the Kuchengetana Relief Kitchen, a food relief kitchen providing daily meals in Chitungwiza – a dormitory town situated 30kms south east of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. By working with a local initiative like Kuchengetana, we empower long-term sustainable solutions to hunger while also addressing immediate food needs.
Instead of sending food packs into Zimbabwe, a better approach is to empower existing food gardens, kitchens and relief efforts. They can produce food that is:
- lower cost, maximising financial donations,
- culturally relevant, and
- available long-term, also addressing future food needs.
The international community’s support will be necessary to sustain their efforts in the long-term through financial donations.
We are on the verge of starting a large media campaign appealing to people across the world to donate to local initiatives. We similarly encourage people to convince their fellows and peers to support local food initiatives in Zimbabwe, such as Kuchengetana. It makes a difference — in the present and future.
Zimbabwe in Crisis, an Info Pack
The Info Pack is a brief 19-page document. It has both the facts on hunger, poverty and political oppression in Zimbabwe and ways to remain informed and assist. It is a non-funded ad-hoc research document produced by volunteer student researchers.
It is common to share misinformation when access to that information is limited. After all, the Zimbabwean government cracks down on media freedom. To counter this, we prepared ascertainable facts based on a combination of local and international reporting, preferring local media outlets in Zimbabwe. This information was also sent to student researchers living in Zimbabwe to correct. The Info Pack also offers a list of local journalists and civil organisations to remain updated.
It is our pernicious silence which sanctions injustice in Zimbabwe. Bursts of activism are helpful, but it is sustainable vigilance which erases silence. While people suffer, we cannot shy away.
Xenophobia against Zimbabweans in South Africa
Not covered in the report are the consistent dangerous threats of violence against Zimbabweans in South Africa. Recent weeks have seen influential social media accounts, organising under the banner of #PutSouthAfricansFirst, targeting fellow Africans.
This movement is pushing for the deportation of economic migrants, predominantly Zimbabweans. It should be noted there is no way to deport hundreds and thousands of people without the use of force and violence. Any call for mass deportation is therefore a call for violence.
While people starve in Zimbabwe, many South Africans have turned their backs away or turned their fists toward preferring to make Zimbabwean suffering worse. Alternatively, South Africans could come together to help achieve food sovereignty in Zimbabwe. An approach which states, “It’s their problem so they should deal with it,” will not work. Despite consistent elections in Zimbabwe, little has changed. This crisis will not solve itself.
In fact, if South Africans want less migration from Zimbabwe, helping restore food access is crucial. On 01 October 2020, Herman Mashaba (an influential South African anti-migrant politician) tweeted “Zimbabweans crossing our non-existent border to buy food and take it back home.”
This was an admission from Mashaba that the reason many Zimbabwean cross the South African border is to access food. Mashaba has called for tighter border security, which would make this more difficult and worsen the suffering of Zimbabweans, who Mashaba recognises are starving. Instead, Mashaba and all South Africans should be supporting local food initiatives in Zimbabwe. This will prevent the very border-crossing they are concerned about while alleviating the suffering of Zimbabweans.
South Africans must show a force of solidarity with Zimbabweans and assist in solving their crisis. Even the enablers of xenophobic violence understand and recognise that hunger and poverty are causes of migration. If so, the obvious route forward is to help eradicate that hunger — and that is something we can do.
Is this enough?
As explored in the Info Pack, food access is one of many issues in Zimbabwe. However, it is an issue that the international community is in a good position to help solve. The issues that relate to Zimbabwe’s political oppression and larger economic woes will require internal resistance and victory against the present government.
Certainly, the Zimbabwean government is empowered by the South African government with a strong alliance between the respective countries’ ruling parties. South Africans could achieve great result by encouraging our government to place more pressure on Zimbabwe.
South Africans have not taken to the streets in protest against South Africa’s enabling of political repression in Zimbabwe. Instead, South Africans have urged on anti-migrant politicians and laws. We are distracted and our activism is misplaced. South Africans would achieve a lot if we rallied together for Zimbabweans, instead of against them.
So, food relief is not enough. There is also a need to crack down on all the enablers of the Zimbabwean government, including financial partners. More than this, we can directly support local independent media. It is through media work that political attitudes within a democracy shift. If indeed voters are to make democratic decisions, they should be empowered by sufficient information and analysis of their political situation. A democracy without independent media is instead a state of propaganda, wherein many decisions by voters are guided by a stream of misinformation from state apparatus. Empowering Zimbabwean political decision-making is assisted by strengthening independent media.
So, people, especially South Africans can work against enablers and support Zimbabwean media. This is on top of assisting the development of sovereign food systems in Zimbabwe.