THE black market for subsidised roller meal is thriving during the 21-day lockdown due to shortages that have seen many people spending long hours in queues and not maintaining social distances meant to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Some residents told Chronicle yesterday that they have to leave home as early as 4AM to join the mealie-meal queues but that does not guarantee getting the product, forcing desperate families to turn to the black market.
Depending on the area, some unscrupulous dealers are selling the subsidised mealie-meal, whose price is officially pegged at $70 a 10kg bag.
Bulawayo residents who spoke to our news crew said the situation is worsened by mini-cartels operating in various suburbs getting mealie-meal at the expense of those in need.
Shop owners, local councillors and unscrupulous police officers controlling queues are said to be used as a conduit to divert the mealie-meal to the black market.
The distribution of Government’s subsidised mealie-meal has been marred with corruption for some time and recently a Silo Food Industries employee from Bulawayo was arrested for diverting the product to the black market.
The case against Buhle Dube (37) of Kensington is still before the courts and she is jointly charged with the Stanley Chimatira and Samkeliso Nyathi who are former employees at Silo Food Industries and are still at large.
Yesterday, a Chronicle news crew observed that some shops are demanding that residents pay for the product in cash only even though it is scarce as most banks are closed to mitigate against Covid-19.
Residents who spoke to the news crew said it was worrying that certain familiar faces were always the ones getting the mealie-meal at the expense of everyone.
Some of them blamed police who would be tasked to bring order at mealie-meal queues for causing confusion and also fuelling the black market in selling of the product.
In Pumula South, some police officers who were maintaining order in the queues were replaced by another team following complaints that they were involved in underhand dealings to get mealie-meal.
In an interview, Choppies Pumula South manager Mr Lawrence Mbano said after the chaotic selling of mealie-meal at his shop on Saturday, he was visited by the Officer-in-Charge of Old Pumula Police Station, who revealed that police details who were controlling mealie-meal queues would be replaced.
He did not state what the cops had done, but community members accused them of being part of the problem in the sale of mealie-meal.
Mr Mbano said the biggest challenge is that there is never enough mealie-meal supplied to shops.
He admitted that there was chaos in selling of mealie-meal but exonerated himself of any wrong doing. “When mealie-meal is delivered there will be chaos that is why we rope in police. But the challenge that is there is that we have a huge population and we can receive just over 200 bags of mealie-meal which is never enough. If people do not get the mealie-meal they will always complain. We are a community shop and we try to service the community,” said Mr Mbano.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Paul Mavima said Government was addressing the mealie-meal shortage issue.
“Although this is not something that is directly being handled by my Ministry, I am aware that Government is seized with the matter and has tasked an inter-ministerial team headed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to bring grain into the country. I know they are doing a lot to improve the situation. The private sector is also doing something. With the two we are hopeful that the mealie-meal situation will improve,” said Minister Mavima.
He said the Department of Social Welfare will continue grain distribution in rural areas while providing cash transfers to urban area particularly Bulawayo and Harare.
Minister Mavima said Government was being complemented by the World Food Programme and its various agencies to provide humanitarian aid to the vulnerable even during the lockdown period.
Foreign Affairs Minister Sibusiso Moyo could not be reached for comment last night.
Commerce and Industry Deputy Minister Raj Modi who heads a mealie-meal taskforce that must ensure that there is a steady supply of the subsidised roller meal on the market was said to be out of the country.
Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) spokesperson, Garikai Chaunza said they were not involved in the supply of subsidised mealie-meal.
He said millers have offered Government 40 000 metric tonnes of maize to purchase to avert the prevailing mealie-meal shortages, an offer Government is yet to take.
A Chronicle new crew observed that the seemingly perennial and long mealie-meal queues being experienced during the lockdown period are partly due to corrupt shop managers who only sell a limited number of stocks to the general public and reserve the rest for their friends including security agents.
Despite the Government making sure mealie-meal is supplied almost on a daily basis, queues have not subsided with customers not observing social distancing calls by health authorities so as to flatten the Covid-19 virus curve.
“This is not fair at all, we have been coming here every day wanting to buy mealie-meal but failing yet we see police officers, some of them on a daily basis accessing it. The very same officers’ channel the product to the black market where a 10kg bag costs between $170 and $190 in cash. Government must put an end to this, yes police officers must also get mealie meal but not daily surely,” fumed Mrs Sinanzeni Dube of Cowdray Park.
She, like most residents, had been queuing at TM Cowdray Park for more than six hours.
When Chronicle asked one of the managers at TM Cowdray Park about allegations levelled against the shop, he claimed they were only reserving mealie meal for police officers who were on duty controlling the queue.
This, however, was not the case as even those not on duty were having their names jotted down before later buying and going home.