In a country where good news has been a rare commodity in recent years, Zimbabweans could scarcely believe their luck last week when the police and courts allowed the Daily News, the country's only independent daily newspaper, to publish for the first time in four months. It was the same day South African President Thabo Mbeki told visiting German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder that Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF government would resume talks with the embattled opposition. "I am quite certain they will negotiate and will find an agreement. We will work with them," Mbeki said.
But it was too good to be true. Harare quickly asked the courts to silence the Daily News again, and Zimbabwean politicians from both camps said Mbeki was being too optimistic. There was more bad news when Mugabe's government was accused of hoarding vital stocks of grain. The ruling party has in the past been accused of channeling food aid toward its supporters, a practice the World Food Program says it has made all but impossible. But now the government seems to be messing with the commercial food supply. The Grain Marketing Board, which has a monopoly on trade in maize and wheat, says it has collected 240,000 tons of maize this season. The WFP, which will feed up to 4.5 million people in the coming months, last week asked the government to start selling the maize. "Release of this food would have a very positive impact on affordability," says WFP's Zimbabwe country director Kevin Farrell. "Last year the inflation rate was 600% and food prices were higher than that. There just hasn't been enough food in the market."
But the buzz in Harare is that the government will hold onto the maize until the next parliamentary elections, due in 2005. "Then they will have food to hand out to make themselves look good," says a Zimbabwean analyst.