Just so we don't forget.....

For many, it's worse than the colonial era  
By Eupha Mahenga

A DESPERATE move by the Zanu PF government to protect consumers from economic hardships it created by imposing unpopular price controls on most basic commodities has backfired, causing more hardships instead.  

Effected late last year by the desperate ruling party which sought to ensure the re-election of President Robert Mugabe in the face of a strong challenge from MDC president, Morgan Tsvangirai, the price controls have caused havoc in the country threatening the livelihood of many people.

The effects of the controls have been so drastic that life in Zimbabwe has been transformed into a nightmare.

An acute shortage of commodities that are on the controlled prices list is now the order of the day, condemning Zimbabweans to a life in queues.

Such basic commodities as mealie meal, cooking oil, salt and sugar which were always readily available have vanished from the shelves, fuelling the parallel market where the prices are out of reach of ordinary Zimbabweans.

On the parallel market a thin loaf of bread now costs between $150 to $280. Around March this year, a bigger and nutritious loaf cost $30.

A 5kg pack of maize meal which a few months ago went for $130 has gone up to $650. The same unrealistic price increase have been effected on other commodities which are hard to get in the country.

This scenario has caused untold suffering to people who are adjusting to life without a slice of bread each morning and food prepared without cooking oil. At one time locals learnt to endure meals without salt which was in short supply.

In fact, most Zimbabweans who are either low income earners or have no income at all are now reliving the colonial era when they could only afford to eat bread at Christmas. During that time every family, especially those in the rural areas, expected the treat of having bread at breakfast.

However, for this festive season things could be much worse as the commodity is likely to be unavailable for the traditional heavy Christmas breakfast.

Things have become so bad that even finance Minister, Herbert Murerwa, admitted before President Mugabe on Thursday that price controls had become a threat to Zimbabwean society.

Said Murerwa while presenting the 2003 budget to parliament: "Efforts to protect the consumer from spiralling prices are being undermined by price controls that focus mostly on the final product, ignoring developments affecting inputs into the production process. This has affected production viability and the sustainability of the controlled price levels. As a result, the real costs to the society have been highŠ"

The real beneficiaries of the system, Murerwa noted,were the speculators and dealers and not the targeted vulnerable groups, who were now watching helplessly as their breadwinners and friends lost employment as companies retrenched workers owing to viability problems occasioned by unsustainable price control levels.

Victor Chisi, a senior manager with the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) told The Standard that although noble, the introduction of price controls had created more problems for the country.

"The idea was noble because the people could not afford the commodities. However soon after the introduction of the price controls the commodities ceased to exist on the shelves, giving rise to the thriving informal market," said Chisi.

He added that the prices had become so high that consumers could not afford them, prompting his organisation to call for boycotts on the expensive items.

Only last week, CCZ called for a beef boycott as a way of illustrating the plight of the consumer. Prices of economy beef have shot up to between $800 and $1000, way beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans.

A small scale retailer from Ruwa who confessed that he did not have much knowledge of economics, told The Standard that by introducing price controls, Mugabe's government had revealed its ignorance over basic economic matters.

"The aim of every retailer or business is to make a profit. By buying products at an uncontrolled prize and selling them at a controlled prize one simply makes a loss. In such an environment, he or she has no option but to close shop. I was surprised that government actually created such a condition that forced us to close down our businesses and later blamed that on Tony Blair," said Munashe Tshuma.

Despite this state of affairs, the government yesterday announced, in an extraordinary gazette, that it had extended price controls to the agricultural, motor and newspaper industry.

The education, building and technology sector were also not spared.

This move, which will also freeze the price of vegetables, means almost everything sold in Zimbabwe now has a controlled price.
So, we still haven't gone in. Just out of interest, isn't General Sir Michael Walker an ex-zim? When are we going in Sir?
Come on PtP, we've been round this mulberry bush before.

We will not be going in and should not go in
- the powerful nations of Africa have got to start taking responsibility for its own region
- when Zim is a desert the whole world can see how a dictator can blight his own nation worse than any famine (plenty of examples littered throughout African history) and that is a lesson the Govts of the west WANT Africa to learn, the hard way if necessary, because they cannot keep digging African nations out of the holes their despots keep digging themselves into
- the Zim farmers should have instigated Land Reform before  Mugabe saw the opportunity of trying to ethnically cleanse them back to S Africa and GB
- which particular box of soldiers is the Admiral going to use to send troop there?!!

I know it makes you angry - doesn't make me angry anymore - but sometimes the right thing to do, is to do nothing and let Fate take its course.

I know. but it doesn't stop me literally weeping with frustration when I see the same starving people.

Political leaders talk in lofty ways of regime change.

I feel if this mess isn't sorted out soonest, Zim will be the Balkans of Africa.

It is a crying shame that politicians play politics with other peoples' lives.  I share the frustration but Ebagum is still a hero to may in Africa and amongst some our liberal elite.  Any move to assist the poor starving citizens of Zimbabwe will be twisted by Ebagum as examples of Britain's colonial plots.  Until such time as there is a civil war, I cannot see Blair doing anything positive.
I don't think he's a hero to the 'liberal elite' here any more. He is however, as you point out, a hero to some of the population in Zim, just as Milosevic is to some people in Serbia. My father, as a young colonial policeman, spent a lot of his time with his armed black constables, hunting two particularly important young dissidents called Mugabe and Nkomo. I spoke SiShoni, the language of Mugabe, before I spoke English because the servants, the poor and the dispossessed in Northern Rhodesia were Shona - Mugabe's tribe - the language of our maid, our garden boy and the children I spent my time with.

He, however much you hate his methods, directly (and crudely) addresses a very powerful grievance in that country, that of land distribution. Now, those (white) farmers own that land perfectly legitimately - but their white predecessors did not - in the eyes of the black population.

You cannot measure something as primitively important and fundamental as land ownership against the dry paper measure of legal deeds, whether they were obtained by honest cash this century, or glass beads and whisky in the last. You only have to look at the history of land ownership in this country to realise that (the Troubles have their roots in the soil of land confiscation - literally).

I say again - I supported Mugabe when he came to power initially, I do not any more. But I, being an eternal optimistic, believe a 'regime change' will happen. There are forces working in the background which we do not read about, whose hand we never see at work, who I strongly suspect are allowing events to unfold because it follows the greater plan they have in mind for Zim (which I truly hope has, as its aim, equality of opportunity for all in Zim, white, Matabele and Shona - sadly, that cannot always be assumed.......)

Yes, it's awful to watch people dying of starvation. I was at the checkout in Sainsburys just a few hours ago and picked up a magazine to pass the time, and read a quote from an 8 year old boy in Ethiopia - "I want to die - I would rather die than wait for food any more" - he could have been my 7 year old son. I paid for my shopping feeling numb.

But it's a much bigger problem than just Mugabe and this years drought  - and that is why stopping foreign aid will prove more expensive  in the long run...