BULAWAYO - Zimbabwe has run out of maize-meal, its main staple food, in yet another sign of a deepening crisis in the southern African country.
In a stark reminder of how the gains of independence from Britain 26 years ago were fast eroding away, Zimbabweans woke up on Monday to celebrate Heroes Day holiday held in commemoration of fallen heroes of the liberation struggle, but with shops empty of maize-meal.
The chairman of the Zimbabwe Grain Millers Association (ZGMA) that groups private milling firms, Thembinkosi Ndlovu, said the countrywide shortage of maize-meal was because the state-owned Grain Marketing Board (GMB) had not supplied maize to millers because it did not have any in stock.
The corruption-riddled GMB is the only one permitted by law to trade in maize which is ground into maize-meal, the daily food of more than 90 percent of the 12 million Zimbabweans.
Ndlovu said: "There is a crisis, I can confirm that there is no mealie-meal around the country and millers are currently not getting any (maize) supplies."
Former army colonel Samuel Muvuti, put in charge of the GMB by President Robert Mugabe, could not be reached for comment on the maize shortage.
Both Muvuti and Mugabe have since the beginning of the year claimed that the GMB would collect enough maize from farmers after a bumper harvest from the 2005/06 farming season. They estimated that Zimbabwe would harvest 1.8 million tonnes, enough for national annual consumption.
But local farming experts and international food relief agencies have disputed the government's figures saying Zimbabwe was likely to harvest around 800 000 tonnes of maize after a shortage seed and fertilizer crippled planting operations despite the country having received good rains.