We Apologise for These Images but They Speak More Eloquently Than Any Politician of the Plight of Zimbabwe’s Starving People

Daily Mail (London), March 12, 2010

For us it is a saddening sight–a magnificent bull elephant struck down in his old age.

But for the starving of Zimbabwe, it was little short of a miracle.

The carcass provided a vital source of food, and hundreds of desperate villagers in the Gonarezhou National Park descended on the dead animal within minutes of its discovery.

Using machetes, axes and knives made from tin cans they set upon the six-ton carcass, which was found deep in scrubland.

Fights broke out as villagers battled to strip chunks of flesh from the animal and drag them away to feed their families.

It took just one hour and 47 minutes for the 13ft-tall elephant to be reduced to a skeleton. Every part was used for food, even the trunk and ears.

The bones of the 70-year-old animal were taken to boil for soup and within 24 hours nothing was left but a blood-stained patch of earth.

The images are undeniably shocking. But they illustrate the terrible lengths to which Zimbabweans are forced to go just to survive under Robert Mugabe.

Yesterday, the Red Cross warned the situation in the former British colony is ‘critical’ with 2.17million–one in four of the population–requiring urgent food aid.

Emma Kundishora, of the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society, said: ‘In some parts of the country, the food situation is as bad as many of our volunteers and staff have ever seen.’

Conditions are expected to deteriorate further this year following the collapse of agriculture caused by President Mugabe’s violent seizures of thousands of white-owned farms since 2000.

Erratic rain has also damaged crops of corn. Harvests could produce just 500,000-tons this year, less than a third of the amount required to feed the nation.

Photographer David Chancellor said: ‘Just after dawn a villager spotted the carcass as he passed on a bicycle.

‘It was in the middle of nowhere, but within 15 minutes hundreds of people had arrived from all directions.

‘The women formed a ring around the elephant and the men stood inside, fighting and stabbing each other to get to the meat.’

He added: ‘The meat was taken back to homes. Some was eaten immediately but most was dried on washing lines and stored to eat later.

‘There were celebrations in the surrounding villages for the next two nights.’

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