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Cleric predicts Zimbabwe food catastrophe

A Zimbabwean archbishop said Wednesday he feared 200,000 of his people could die by February because of food shortages he blamed on the government.
Pius Ncube, the Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, speaks Wednesday at a news conference by the Solidarity Peace Trust in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Pius Ncube, the Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, speaks Wednesday at a news conference by the Solidarity Peace Trust in Johannesburg, South Africa.Denis Farrell / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Zimbabwean archbishop said Wednesday he feared 200,000 of his countrymen could die by early next year because of food shortages he blamed on the government, and called for President Robert Mugabe’s ouster.

Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube, a frequent critic of Mugabe, spoke at a news conference called to show a new film on “Operation Murambatsvina,” a widely condemned government campaign that critics charge has left tens of thousands of Zimbabweans trapped in a spiral of poverty, hunger and displacement.

“I think Mugabe should just be banished, like what happened to Charles Taylor. He should just be banished from Zimbabwe,” said Ncube, referring to the former Liberian president forced into exile in Nigeria.

“Let the man get banished if you don’t want Zimbabweans to die,” said Ncube, responding to questions about what the international community could do to help Zimbabwe.

The archbishop said food security in Zimbabwe was so precarious that unless there is a dramatic change, malnutrition could contribute to the premature deaths of 200,000 people by February.

Archbishop: 700 die daily from AIDS
Ncube said it was a personal estimate and based on his belief of the effect of severe food shortages on a population ravaged by HIV/AIDS and extreme poverty at a time of hyperinflation and near 80 percent unemployment. He said 700 people a day already were dying of AIDS in Zimbabwe and the death rate would increase with malnutrition.

Bishop Rubin Phillip, the Anglican bishop of KwaZulu Natal Province in South Africa and the co-chairman of the Solidarity Peace Trust, a group of church leaders committed to human rights and democracy, said Zimbabweans “were living lives of desperation with no glimmer of hope.”

He said the Solidarity Peace Trust has documented that hundreds of thousands of people have been “cruelly and deliberately deprived of houses and livelihood by the government of Zimbabwe.”

In May, the government without warning began burning or destroying informal settlements and the kiosks of vendors. The United Nations said at least 700,000 people lost their homes or livelihoods in the campaign it called a violation of international law. The clerics say dozens of people, including newborn babies, died as a result of exposure.

“You can see what kind of people we are dealing with here, murderers. I will not mince my words,” said Ncube.

Film documents desperation
The new film, titled “Hide and Seek,” shows Mugabe saying the operation was a cleanup campaign that would move people out of unpleasant informal settlements into new and better homes built by the government.

It then interviews Zimbabweans who lost their homes in the campaign and four months later are still living in the open or in makeshift shacks of sticks and plastic sheeting and cooking over open fires. The clerics estimate tens of thousands of people have simply been dumped in rural areas where they are unknown and unwanted. Nearly all have no jobs, no money.

“The amount of suffering is beyond imagination,” said Ncube.

The Rev. Ray Motsi, the president of the National Pastors Conference in Zimbabwe, said people who initially found refuge in churches were dislodged by armed police in the middle of the night and forced on trucks that took them to rural areas.

“They had done nothing but commit the crime of poverty,” said Motsi.

Ncube said the government of Zimbabwe was only interested in cover-up, lies and in making promises it has no intention of delivering.

“Mugabe is the kind of character that even if 50 percent of Zimbabweans died he would not care,” he said.

The clerics said the government has refused food aid and restricted the work of international organizations and churches that seek to distribute food, meaning that international relief was limited and spotty.