Bakers quizzed over price hikes

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ANDREW KUNAMBURA

PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has come out guns blazing at bakers and grain millers over the recent bread price increase, which his government suspects is part of a conspiracy to cause public disaffection.

On Monday, he summoned to a crisis meeting at his Munhumutapa office the National Bakers Association of Zimbabwe (NBAZ) president Ngoni Mazango, chairperson of the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) Tafadzwa Musarara and other players in the industry to reprimand them after the price of bread increased by 100% from $1,30 to $2,60 per standard loaf on Friday last week.

Industry minister Mangaliso Ndlovu confirmed the meeting, saying it was called after government “was taken aback by the sudden increase in the price of bread”, which was done without the government’s knowledge.

Sources who attended the meeting said Mnangagwa asked Mazango why they decided to raise the price of bread without first engaging the government since bread was classified as a national strategic resource with serious security ramifications.

In a scathing brief, the sources said, Mnangagwa particularly blamed the bakers and accused them of conniving with “enemies of the state” to turn the people on his government.

Mnangagwa also threatened that if the price increases continued, the government would be forced to intervene by establishing its own bakeries, which would sell bread at low prices.

He ordered the grain millers and bakers to put their house in order and come back to his office for another meeting.

“It was a highly emotional meeting. You could tell that he was not happy at all with the development. He said that it was wrong to increase the price of such a strategic resource which is of security concern without first consulting with government. He then reminded the meeting that he was of the opinion that there was a conspiracy to increase the prices at some key points so as to turn the people against government. He gave two examples. The first one was the price increase of October last year which he said came a few days before he was due to address a rally at Murombedzi (Mashonaland West province) and last week when he was scheduled to address another rally in Mt Darwin (Mashonaland Central province). So he said he was beginning to realise that there was that pattern whereby prices go up each time Zanu PF has its events,” said a source who attended the meeting.

“The bakers received most of the backlash. It was more of a briefing to which he had summoned them to vent his frustration at them before he ordered both millers and bakers to go and put their house in order and come back to his office on Friday (tomorrow).”

The bakers and millers reportedly told Mnangagwa that the price increase was necessary to keep them afloat since they were facing foreign currency shortages, but Mnangagwa told them that they should have first informed government of the decision before effecting the price hikes.

“Normally, what happens is that before such a price hike is effected the bakers consult government, but this did not happen. So that is the main reason why the President thought there was some motive behind this move,” the source added.

Towards the end of the briefing, Mnangagwa reportedly told Musarara to consult with GMAZ members and come up with millers’ monthly wheat requirement and table it to him at tomorrow’s meeting for government consideration.

Ndlovu told the Zimbabwe Independent in an interview on Wednesday the rationale behind the price hike.

“We wanted to understand the unilateral increase of the price of bread and the challenges the industry is currently facing. We were really taken aback when we saw that the prices had been increased behind our backs, something which does not normally happen. They indicated that they were not receiving enough foreign currency from the RBZ (Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe) and they had no other alternative. But as government, when situations like these arise, we are forced to intervene,” he said.

Contacted for comment, Mazango said he was attending a meeting and could not discuss the matter.

“I am in a meeting. I will return your call,” he said but did not honour the promise. Text messages forwarded to his mobile phone were not responded to.

Musarara directed all questions back to Mazango.

“It was mainly a meeting for bakers and so they would be better placed to comment,” he said.

Zimbabwe is facing serious foreign currency shortages which have forced companies to source it on the parallel market, where the exchanged rate has soared in favour of the United States dollar.

This has had the knock-on effect of pushing prices of basic commodities well beyond the reach of many citizens.

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