Monday, June 16, 2008

Whose chain is being yanked here?

An odd little story in the New York Times about how American food aid was subverted by ZANU-PF thugs in Zimbabwe:
Zimbabwean authorities confiscated a truck loaded with 20 tons of American food aid for poor schoolchildren and ordered that the wheat and pinto beans aboard be handed out to supporters of President Robert Mugabe at a political rally instead, the American ambassador said Wednesday.
I have absolutely no doubt that this happened. Mugabe has seen food as a political weapon for a while now, and with the election coming up this sort of thing will be happening all over the country.
The seizure of the truck laden with food assistance is a case in point, Mr. McGee said. It occurred Friday in an area called Bambazonke near the town of Mutare in eastern Zimbabwe.
Wait a minute - where?
The food aid that was confiscated was on a truck that began its rounds last Thursday, but that had a mechanical breakdown and wound up seeking a safe haven by parking overnight at the Bambazonke police station, American officials said.
Hmm. I taught near Mutare and know the area pretty well. I'd not heard of any Bambazonkes around there. And it looks like my ignorance is shared as well:
Wayne Bvudzijena, spokesman for Zimbabwe’s national police, did not respond to the substance of Mr. McGee’s charge when contacted on his cellphone on Wednesday, but instead contended that there was no place named Bambazonke in Zimbabwe.
In an interview, Mr. Kagurabadza, the former mayor of nearby Mutare, confirmed that Bambazonke did exist. It also appears on a recent report of parliamentary constituencies by election monitors. But when the American ambassador, Mr. McGee, and Karen Freeman, the Usaid mission director in Zimbabwe, met Tuesday with a senior official at the Foreign Ministry, they were presented with a similar denial.
Mr. McGee said the official told them, “I’ve never head of this place Bambazonke. Are you certain this even happened?”
The ambassador added, “At the end of the argument, he promised he would look into the situation and get back to us.”
While, obviously, the word of a ZANU-PF official is not exactly blue-chip, I think I can hazard a guess as to what happened here. The driver of the US food truck might well have sold on the food on the black market, reasoning that in the current feverish mood no-one, least of all an American, would ever doubt that it had been commandeered by 'war veterans'. But the name?
Well, during the short-lived Central African Federation, 'Bamba Zonke' was the nickname for Salisbury (now Harare) - the capital of Southern Rhodesia. It means 'Take everything' in Shona. Rather appropriate in the circumstances. Someone is having their chain yanked here, and I'll stick my neck out and say that it's the Americans. Nice touch.

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