If we simply describe the current rampant price increases by business merely as “madness”, we might be missing something fundamental and shearing lots of responsibility off people who must be held accountable.
Since November last year, prices of goods and services in Zimbabwe have been increasing, squeezing the poor population as people have had to pay through the nose for necessities. Parents, especially, have felt this keenly as schools opened this week. Prices of school uniforms and consumables went through the roof.
Some schools also increased fees and prices of goods they sell on-site — which is becoming a norm — forcing poor parents to sacrifice for the sake of their children. These are the same parents who during the just-ended festive season had to endure price increases trying to bring some cheer to their families. Most of them forced to pay in scarce cash by unscrupulous racketeers masquerading as businesspeople. Poor consumer!
We know for a fact that providers of goods and services have been loving it and smiling all the way to the bank. They are making super-profits and this especially under the cover of the much touted foreign currency shortages. Zimbabwe is facing a severe foreign currency and cash crunch and money has to be bought on the black market.
However, shops have gone beyond reasonable reality of this economics to charge more on the consumer. The foreign currency shortage is held as a convenient excuse although it is clear that the rate of price increases does not accord with the rates of foreign currency on the parallel market. There should be other driving forces behind the price increases. The first factor, obviously, is greed on the part of retailers and service providers.
Secondly and connected to the above, is retailers taking advantage of the new dispensation’s lack of appetite to pursue price controls, a course President Mnangagwa has hitherto shown an aversion to.
However, by wantonly increasing prices of commodities and services, dealers are spurning the President’s gesture and goodwill. Leading to the third factor, namely that there is an invisible political hand driving the price increases in this season of national elections.
It is a familiar script. The ruling Zanu-PF party, which this week instituted a taskforce to look into pricing regimes and trends, is worried about this. We are not weaving a conspiracy: Zimbabwe has been down that road many an election year as some interests have sought to compel citizens to vote in a particular manner.
What is happening now constitutes a real, present and continuing danger. The ruling party, which informs Government, is right in tasking Vice President Constantino Chiwenga to look into the issue. We urge the taskforce to be smart and clinical in exercising its mandate.
It is to be expected that saboteurs may want to precipitate a crisis, characterised by shortages and further steeping of prices if the wrong measures are adopted.
They should not be given that excuse. Government could institute measures such as availing foreign currency to genuine cases, and relaxing taxes on raw material imports and goods that have no substitutes locally.
Smaller suppliers and dealers should be promoted to break monopolies and cartels that have saddled the market. In light of all this, those found to be profiteering must be punished and their plea of insanity — the madness — rejected for its falsity, because it is known that there is a method to it all.
But beyond pleas for Government to intervene, it is time Zimbabweans themselves exercised their power as consumers by boycotting completely businesses which demand cash or differentiate prices depending on mode of payment. Sanity must return to the market.
Economic saboteurs and opportunists must not be allowed to prosper from the proceeds of their criminal mind. It is no secret that most of those businesses claiming to source forex from the black market are in fact hoarding it in safes at home and often evade duty at ports of entry or smuggle their merchandise outright.