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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 July, 2005, 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK
Food imports head into Zimbabwe
Baby receiving food aid
The land seizures caused food shortages, critics say
Zimbabwe has begun a massive programme to import food from South Africa to feed 4m people which the United Nations estimates are in need of food aid.

The state-run Grain Marketing Board head said imports of 1.8m tons of maize should be enough until June next year.

The government had predicted a bumper harvest but blamed drought for the shortfall, not its controversial land reform programme.

Zimbabwe has been slow to take UN food, saying it wants to feed its own people.

Aid agencies say the campaign to demolish some poor townships, which has left some 300,000 people homeless, is likely to exacerbate the food crisis.

'Tough line'

"We have embarked on a massive importation programme. The maize has already started coming into the country from... South Africa," Grain Marketing Board head Samuel Muvuti told state media.

Morgan Tsvangirai
He recognises that the quiet diplomacy has not produced the requisite result
MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai

"We have opened all our routes to ensure that the grain comes into the country [in time]."

Meanwhile, opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai said South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, who is often criticised for not taking a tougher line on Zimbabwe, was ready to try new strategies to deal with the country's problems.

"He recognises that the quiet diplomacy has not produced the requisite result," Mr Tsvangirai said at a press conference on Wednesday, AFP reports.

He was speaking after talks between South Africa's new Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday.

Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka said she is working to understand the "economic challenges" facing Zimbabwe.

'Trampling humanity'

But Zimbabwe's Information Minister Tichaona Jokonya said he did not see any purpose in the MDC turning to South Africa for help.

President Thabo Mbeki
Thabo Mbeki has not openly criticised President Mugabe

"If they have gone to President Mbeki then God help them. I do not see any useful purpose to be served by that approach, " Mr Jokonya told state-run television.

"We have solved many, many intricate political problems in this country which were the product of our colonial past and we have never had anybody to come and tell us how to do it" he said.

South African church leaders have accused President Mugabe of "trampling on humanity" with the recent destruction of houses in what he says is a crackdown to rid cities of criminals.

A motion proposed by the MDC condemning the demolitions has been rejected by Zimbabwe's parliament by 54-33 votes.

Earlier this month the World Food Programme head James Morris said the current food shortages in Zimbabwe made it one of the countries he was most worried about in the world.

Critics blame shortages on its land policy which has seen thousands of white farmers forced to leave their land in the past five years.

The government blames food shortages on drought and economic sabotage by Western countries, led by the UK, opposed to land reform.

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