A CARTOON depicting a worker celebrating his untaxed bonus only to be stopped dead in his tracks by the level of price increases reflected on shop shelves graphically illustrates the plight of
most Zimbabwean families.
In biblical terms, government hath given with the right hand and taken with the left by scaling up the annual bonus threshold while removing price controls and giving retailers free rein to hike prices.
Spending power among ordinary Zimbabweans continues to be eroded as inflation has pushed the prices of basic commodities beyond the reach of many.
Inflation figures released last week by the Central Statistical Office triggered apprehension among consumers at a time of the year when families traditionally spoil themselves and their loved ones with gifts.
Zimbabwe’s inflation last week nosed up to 502,4% from a previous high of 411%, making life unbearable for many. Loss in value of the Zimbabwean currency has created a legion of poor millionaires.
Most families are likely to face a bleak Christmas.
Holding a blue plastic shopping bag, Munyaradzi Moyo is deeply worried after paying $2 million for just a few items.
Moyo (36), a father of four, wonders what the future has in store for him. He has to budget tightly for his family to get through the whole month.
With a loaf of bread now costing $50 000, up from $36 000, his family is unlikely to enjoy this festive season.
Recently, the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) put the cost of a basket of basic foodstuffs for a family of six at $12,9 million.
“Even if I go shopping with $5 million I return home with a handful of grocery items for the family,” Moyo says.
“I am ever stressed, without the peace of mind that goes with the festive season,” Moyo adds, chagrined by the prevailing situation.
In Kuwadzana where he rents four rooms, he is often at loggerheads with his landlord for failure to provide antiseptics for the toilet, because he cannot afford to buy toilet cleaning material. Even the landlord finds it hard to buy some.
“It’s now a dog eat dog world in Zimbabwe,” Moyo says.
Not only does the issue of antiseptics sour Moyo’s relationship with his landlord, he now has to face regular rent hikes. He pays $2 million monthly for a room.
In the recently announced inflation figures, home rentals have surged by 1 164,4 % on a rise in demand attributed to the bulldozing of urban slums and illegal structures by President Robert Mugabe’s government earlier this year.
The United Nations says that operation left 700 000 roofless.
Surprisingly, in some shops prices of goods increase while one stands by the till with the operators telling consumers that prices have just changed.
“Prices increase by shocking margins in the time shoppers take to cover the distance from the shelves to the till,” complained Tariro Nyoka.
And although every other Zimbabwean is now a millionaire, they cannot afford to buy basic goods and services from the shops.
Shopping is now an ordeal rather than a pleasure. Consumers now wonder aloud whether they will be able to pay school fees in January if the rate of inflation continues to rise at its present pace.
The CCZ says consumers should shop around to avoid being ripped off by unscrupulous retailers. This will help them get a fair deal.
Runaway inflation is one of the most visible signs of an economy in its sixth year of recession marked by severe shortages of foreign currency, fuel and food widely blamed on government mismanagement.
Analysts said the latest jump in inflation dashes hopes that the government can contain inflation to 300% by end of the month. Although price controls were removed in the recently announced budget, basic commodities continue to be scarce on shelves.