Store shelves normally stocked with staples such as corn meal, cooking oil and sugar were empty on Tuesday as the Zimbabwe government threatened to take over manufacturers and retailers who failed to slash prices by half. Smaller shops shut down after running out of stock.
Store shelves normally stocked with staples such as corn meal, cooking oil and sugar were empty on Tuesday as the Zimbabwe government threatened to take over manufacturers and retailers who failed to slash prices by half.
Smaller shops shut down after running out of stock, while at least 190 supermarkets countrywide have been charged with pricing violations, police said on Tuesday.
In Harare, police raided 40 open-market traders on Monday, detaining them for allegedly hoarding sugar, soap and cooking oil for sale on the black market, police said.
The raids by government inspectors and police—both uniformed and plain clothes—began on Friday after a June 26 government directive ordering that prices for goods be halved in Zimbabwe.
Authorities arrested 20 businessmen and a ruling-party senator over the weekend on charges of overpricing.
During other recent shortages, many stores installed additional security to guard against looters. On Sunday, a shop manager was hospitalised after a near riot involving a mob of shoppers grabbing reduced items from a suburban store. At another store, shoppers fought over scarce sugar, tugging and tearing at packages until police intervened.
The government said on Tuesday the price cuts would not be revoked.
“If anything, the government wants to see prices further reduced,” said Vice-President Joseph Msika, who was acting for President Robert Mugabe while he was at the African Union summit in Ghana.
“Those found on the wrong side of the law will be punished severely,” Msika said, according to state radio. “We will take their businesses; we will take their licenses. They have raised prices to a level the people cannot afford so they can die in agony with hunger.”
Msika and Elliot Manyika, head of a new government task force on prices, accused businesses of deliberately fuelling inflation as a political ploy to bring down Mugabe, the state Herald newspaper reported on Tuesday.
“The campaign is political, and our detractors through business and industry have been trying to bring down the government the Yugoslavia way. We have a real war ... We will overcome them,” Manyika said, according to the Herald.
Manyika said state-owned enterprises—including Air Zimbabwe, the railroad and the telephone company—were ordered to cut fares and charges, and a long-defunct state trading corporation was being revived to take over businesses that collapsed or were seized due to what he called “delinquent” manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers.
In its worst economic crisis since 1980 independence, Zimbabwe faces official inflation of 4Â 500%, the highest in the world, though real inflation on basic goods is estimated at closer to 9Â 000%.
Disruptions in the agriculture-based economy have led to acute shortages of hard currency, food, gasoline, medicines and most basic goods.
The United Nations estimates about one-third of the population will need food aid over the next year.
At one supermarket’s 10m shelf on Tuesday, the only two packages of goat meat on offer sold within minutes of the store’s opening.
One of the capital’s main butcheries, usually open on weekends and holidays, was among the shops closed on Tuesday for lack of supplies, no longer honouring the pledge on its shop-front sign: Open 365 days a year.—Sapa-AP