Is this what we were promised?

THE Consumer Council of Zimbabwe this week released yet more sobering figures on the latest consumer price index. More and more Zimbabweans are sinking into poverty. Even greater numbers cannot afford a decent meal, let alone other

necessities that should differentiate urban life from rural existence.

The consumer watchdog says a monthly basket of basic commodities for an urban family of six has skyrocketed in September to $9,6 million from $6,9 million in August. This is against an average monthly income of $4 million for a majority of civil servants, or less for most industrial labourers.

It is instructive that the major movers of the basket are the very basic requirements that a family cannot do without under any circumstances outside a war zone: bread, mealie-meal, transport and sugar. All have gone up by close to 100% in the past few months without a concomitant adjustment in salaries or wages.

These swingeing costs don’t take into account rental charges, school fees and clothing. What these figures expose is the detachment from reality and the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans of a president who claims that his people are “very, very happy”. They reflect the callous behaviour of a president who thanks his people “for their resilience in the face of adversity” but refuses to launch a formal appeal for food aid from the international community, ostensibly to protect the nation’s dignity and sovereignty.

More fundamentally, the relentless price increases reflect government’s utter failure to deal with the supply side of the economic equation, from agriculture to foreign currency. While President Mugabe can pretend that Zimbabweans should get used to eating potatoes and rice, those commodities are simply not available. Where they are available, it is certainly not for lack of appetite by consumers but resources to purchase them. A 10kg packet of potatoes costs anything up to $300 000, while a 2kg packet of rice costs close to $100 000.

We may perhaps need to explain the implications of such figures to royalty, not to a president who grew up in the heart of rural poverty in Zvimba. Back then a loaf of bread cost less than a tickey (three pence)! Today you need $26 000.

In a nutshell, to say the cost of living in Zimbabwe has shot through the roof is no longer a metaphor. People are starving in greater numbers while government postures that it can meet all food imports from its own resources, which every thinking Zimbabwean knows is not true.

The scarce foreign currency coming into the country is thinly spread across vital imports such as petrol, maize, diesel, electricity and drugs. Industry is just getting by on fuel sourced on the black market and production therefore is at an all-time low.

What we are simply saying is that government should swallow its pride and admit failure. It should appeal for urgent food assistance and allow easy access and distribution of such aid by all people of goodwill. It should admit that there is no economic turnaround to talk of at the moment. If anything, the Zimbabwe dollar has been so badly battered on the black market it is well nigh impossible to put a price tag on anything. We wait with bated breath for the latest inflation numbers from the Central Statistical Office.

Despite payments to the International Monetary Fund to reduce the country’s arrears, the Bretton Woods institution is not impressed by the country’s fiscal and monetary policies. It predicts further descent into penury when we all thought things couldn’t get worse. Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono has a huge fight to do with his political masters to make them see the folly of their ways before Zimbabwe can turn the corner.

It is trite to say the root cause of all this was the ill-conceived land reform where competent commercial farmers were replaced by subsistence farmers who cannot tell a combine harvester from a lorry. While the ruling party made a lot of noise that “land is the economy” all its actions on farms have sought to subvert that. And without recovery in agriculture, which everybody acknowledges is the mainstay of the economy, we are doomed.

Yet, as if oblivious of all this, government is allowing fresh on-farm disturbances in Manicaland and Chipinge when farmers should be preparing for the rainy season. Gono last week described these invasions as “criminal” regardless of the perpetrator. Unfortunately that does not appear to be the view shared by his amoral political masters whose fortunes depend on the manipulation of voters through control of food supplies.

It is evident from the Consumer Council’s figures that millions of Zimbabweans are living in abject poverty. The situation is more dire in communal areas where people have to fight for wild fruits with animals. Is this the future we were promised at the beginning of the year?

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