Zimbabweans scrounge for food, money

Paul Nyakazeya



IN the first half of 2007 the shops had food but most people did not have money. The reason was that most people earned below the poverty datum line.
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Their salaries were not enough to buy the basic commodities.


Midway through the year (June) the same people could not find food, even if they had the cash.


The reason was that government had cracked down on retailers and manufacturers purportedly to deal with businesses that were profiteering.


Four months into the second half of the year the situation changed again.


This time there was neither food nor money. The reason this time was that banks had run out of cash and the shops were yet to recover from the June price blitz.


The central bank was blaming cash barons whom it said were holding on to money to buy foreign currency on the parallel market.


Most Zimbabweans will remember 2007 as probably the toughest year since Independence.


It was a year when they had to scrounge for food even though the country had not experienced a drought.


It was a year when they spent the longest time queuing for food because government had cracked down on the manufacturers and retailers.


It was the year when their standard of living plunged to the lowest levels because of the economic crisis.


For the first time in the history of this country people were asked to bring their own bandages and syringes to hospitals.


For the fist time Zimbabweans were asked to bring their own containers to buy milk from reputable retailers like Spar.


For the first time people could not find Coca-cola in the shops.


People in the rural areas were cut off from towns because of the transport crisis that characterised this year. For most people however 2007 will be remembered as the year the cost of living skyrocketed as the Zimbabwean dollar continued to lose value against major currencies. It will probably be the worst Christmas holiday ever for most Zimbabweans.


Perhaps one measure that can clearly illustrate how miserable life was in 2007 is the cost of living. Inflation galloped to 14 840% during the year. In January inflation was around 1 593,6%. This means that 2007 witnessed a massive spate of price increases for all basic commodities.


A survey conducted by businessdigest revealed that two litres of cooking oil which was being sold at $6 780 in January rose to $450 000 before being reduced to $220 000 after government ordered all retail outlets to slash prices.


By yesterday the same quantity of cooking oil was going for $9,5 million.


A loaf of bread which cost $780 in January is now being sold above $1 000 000, but this week most bakers were still pushing for a further review.


A 10kg bag of mealie meal which cost $1 300 at the beginning of the year is now going for between $4,5 million and $5 million.


Consumer Council of Zimbabwe director Roseline Siyachitema said speculative tendencies this year resulted in most retailers increasing their prices in line with inflation.


“It was a terrible year for consumers as prices of most basic commodities were being increased, largely due to speculative behaviors. No consumers had it easy this year,” said Siyachitema.


Genesis Bank group economist, Brains Muchemwa, said price increases this year were “astronomic” and consumers felt the pinch as their salaries were not increasing inline with the rate of increases.


“There should be a pricing system which takes into consideration the cost build up of commodities as most prices were unjustified,” said Muchemwa.


Independent economist, John Robertson, said prices could increase at a faster rate next year as “business try to cushion themselves against rising production costs caused by the fall of the dollar against major currencies”.


Inflation opened the year at 1 593,6% before rising to 1 729,9% and 2 200,2% in February and March respectively before touching 3 713,9% in April.


The figure rose further to 7 251,1%, 7 634,8% and 6 592,8% in May, June and July.