EXCLUSIVE: Zimbabwe’s holiday spirit crushed as prices of basic goods soar to unimaginable heights

Cde Mthuli Ncube

Zimbabweans are facing a fresh wave of price increases on essential goods and services, overshadowing the festive season and placing additional financial strain on citizens already struggling to make ends meet.

A recent survey conducted by NewsDay reveals that retailers across the country have raised prices on basic commodities, including mealie-meal, sugar, cooking oil, rice, and soap, even when transactions are made in United States dollars. For instance, a 2-litre bottle of cooking oil, previously priced at US$3, now costs US$4.50, while a 2kg pack of rice saw its price rise from US$2 to US$3.50. Similarly, a 2-litre bottle of Mazoe Crush, a popular fruit drink, now carries a price tag of US$4.50, up from $3. Even a single bar of washing soap has seen an increase, climbing from US$1 to US$1.50.

Adding to the concerns, some schools have announced their intentions to implement fee hikes of up to 100% at the beginning of the next academic year.

In response to these price hikes, the government has stated that it will not impose price controls but instead plans to engage with businesses to address the issue. Industry and Commerce Minister Sithembiso Nyoni emphasized that the government’s approach is focused on dialogue and understanding the reasons behind the price increases. To facilitate this, an office will be established to examine the matter and initiate necessary steps for dialogue.

While the government seeks to engage with businesses, retailers have warned that further price hikes may be inevitable. Denford Mutashu, the president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers, attributed the recent price increases to proposals made by Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube in the 2024 budget. Mutashu explained that businesses are passing on the costs to consumers as a means to offset potential losses and manage operational expenses. The introduction of new taxes, such as the proposal to increase value-added tax (VAT) on basic commodities, has created additional pressure on businesses, prompting them to adjust prices accordingly. Mutashu also highlighted the impact of power outages, which have forced businesses to rely on costly alternative power sources like generators.

The prolonged load-shedding, with power outages lasting up to 12 hours per day, has not only affected businesses but also added to the overall cost of living for Zimbabweans. As a result, workers in both the public and private sectors are now demanding full salaries in United States dollars to cope with the rising expenses, as the local currency continues to depreciate. The erosion of purchasing power against stagnant salaries has created a challenging environment for many.

As the holiday season approaches, these price hikes have cast a shadow over the festivities for Zimbabwean citizens. The combination of increased costs and unresponsive incomes has created a bleak outlook for the year-end celebrations. Observers and trade unions have expressed concern over the impact on workers, urging the government to intervene and address the issue. If left unchecked, the situation could undermine the joy and spirit of the festive season, leaving many Zimbabweans grappling with financial difficulties.

Since the reintroduction of the local currency in 2019, following a decade of relative stability during dollarization, Zimbabwe has faced numerous economic challenges. Balancing the needs of businesses, consumers, and workers while stabilizing prices and managing inflation remains a critical task for the government in its ongoing efforts to revive the nation’s economy.

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