Major supermarkets and other outlets in and around Harare were trading normally over the weekend and taking all forms of payment, putting to shame reports on social media that prices of basic commodities had doubled due to rising inflation.
Government dismissed the mischievous reports, warning those who abused social media to peddle false information risked arrest.
The public panicked over the weekend after tuckshop operators and small businesses started hiking prices and rejecting Ecocash and bank transfers as a means of payment.
People started stocking cartons of cooking oil, soap and other groceries, creating an artificial shortage in parts of the city.
A survey by The Herald yesterday showed that bigger supermarkets like OK, Pick n Pay, Spar, Choppies and others were fully stocked and trading at normal prices while accepting all forms of payment.
In a statement last night, Home Affairs Minister Dr Ignatius Chombo dismissed as false and unfounded social media claims of chaos in the currency markets.
“The Ministry of Home Affairs’ attention has been drawn to a sudden spate of irresponsible press and social media reports falsely claiming that there is chaos in the currency markets that has precipitated widespread panic buying of basic commodities due to their alleged shortage or skyrocketing prices,” said Minister Chombo.
He said it was notable that the running thread of these hyperbolic press and social media reports was their propaganda that the country had suddenly slipped back to the hyperinflationary days of 2008.
“Of grave concern to the ministry is that these reports have all the trappings of a politically coordinated criminal agenda by some well-known renegades and malcontents who now seek to disturb the peace in the country to cause alarm and despondency in pursuit of an alleged political programme.”
Minister Chombo said spreading alarm and despondency was not an expression of democracy nor was it media freedom.
“It is a criminal offense and is therefore punishable. In the circumstances, Government is closely monitoring the press and social media reports in question with a view to taking decisive action to deal a telling blow to the perpetrators of the crime in terms of the laws of the country’s criminal justice system.”
In some shops, cooking oil shelves were empty while other traders restricted each customer to buy a single 2-litre bottle.
Panic buying began on Saturday morning but by late yesterday the situation had normalised.
Disturbingly, some general dealers in Glen View and parts of Chitungwiza were reportedly selling 2-litre bottles of cooking oil for as much as between $5 and $8,50 from $3,39.
Hardware shops selling building materials in Mbare lost business yesterday due to price distortions. Some customers rejected the ridiculous prices and terms of trade.
Moto Steel, which sells deformed bars and other steel materials in Mbare, was demanding only United States dollars, with no price list for transfers or bond notes and coins.
“We are only accepting US dollars cash. No swipe and we also do not accept bond notes. If you need a price list for bond notes, Ecocash or swipe, try to check with us tomorrow or Tuesday,” said a shop attendant.
Steel Centre was taking bond notes but had doubled prices of its merchandise.
For 12-millimetre deformed bars, Steel Centre was charging US$3 each and $6 bond notes. It wasn’t accepting swipe or Ecocash transactions.
Sure Cast Cement (42,5) was increased from $11,80 per 50kg bag to $12 at hardware shops at Manyame Park Complex in Chitungwiza while the price of a PPC PC15 (32,5) bag of cement rose from $10,70 to $10,90 yesterday.
The hardware shops at the complex were accepting all forms of payment.
Long queues were observed at major fuel traders like Total and Puma where they were accepting all forms of payment. Smaller dealers were demanding cash payments only.
At Mashwede Service Station near Matapi Police Station in Mbare, fuel attendants were demanding cash and turned away motorists who wanted to use swipe cards or Ecocash.
Glow Petroleum service stations in and around the city were also demanding cash while Trek Service Station along Seke Road turned away motorists who wanted to use bank cards claiming the system was down.
Over the weekend, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe said it had increased foreign currency allocation for basic and essential commodities to curtail threats of shortages.
RBZ Governor Dr John Mangudya said the central bank would allocate an additional US$30 million a week for basic and essential commodities imports with an additional US$15 million being spent on fuel and electricity imports.
He said the injection of additional foreign currency followed marginal increases in prices of goods and commodities in most shops in Harare fuelled by speculative social media reports of impending shortages.
The development triggered panic buying and illegal monetary transactions.
Dr Mangudya dismissed suggestions that most basic commodities were beginning to disappear from shop shelves.
The RBZ has also introduced a US$600 million Nostro Stabilisation Facility from Cairo-headquartered African Export Import Bank (Afreximbank) to start addressing the foreign currency deficit on the market.
The nostro stabilisation facility is meant to deal with ongoing delays in the processing of foreign payments by banks for the procurement of productive imports as part of a raft of measures to stabilise the economy.
The facility will cover the foreign currency gap that widened after the closure of the 2017 tobacco marketing season.