Police were yesterday called to restore order at some of Harare’s leading retailers when desperate shoppers caused commotion after the outlets had received deliveries of cooking oil.
One of the big supermarkets involved had to close shop after disorderly customers stampeded for the oil — which is among several basic consumer goods that are currently in short supply in the country after the government recently unveiled much-criticised new policy measures that are aimed at reviving the economy.
Other retailers were using back alleys which are reserved for deliveries to try and minimise both potential damage to their shops and looting by frenzied buyers who besieged their premises upon witnessing deliveries of the cooking oil.
The Oil Expressers Association of Zimbabwe (OEAZ) — a grouping of seven producers who supply 95 percent of the country’s edible oils — admitted yesterday that the
situation was not ideal, but urged citizens to exercise restraint.
OEAZ had also earlier warned of stampedes at cooking oil delivery points across the country, adding that this was putting the safety of truck drivers, merchandisers and customers at risk.
“As individual companies, we will be engaging security personnel to assist with deliveries to ensure our truck drivers, merchandisers and loyal customers are not injured or prejudiced by those seeking to hoard or create chaos around delivery times.
“While we would want to deliver only at night or early in the morning it limits our ability to deal with issue of shortages and we would want to deliver 24/7 to avert the shortages.
“Each member company will assess the merits and de-merits of each tactic,” OEAZ president Busisa Moyo said.
He also said that they were making concerted efforts together with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) to improve the situation — but hinted that prices were likely to increase due to rising costs of production.
“Our members have issued recommended prices of between $3,70 to $3,99 although these may increase soon in light of increased packaging costs and other consumables which are being priced at the ‘street rates’ and rising exponentially,” he said.
Moyo said for a return to normalcy, the oil companies needed nearly $30 million.
“At the moment, we simply need $20 million in Letters of Credit and $5 million in allocations to normalise supplies, but we are aware that in the long term we will have to invest in the value chain to grow oil seeds.
“The country does not have adequate foreign currency and the credit lines are still work in progress,” he told the Daily News.
However, Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR) president Denford Mutashu accused some of the oil expressers of “not being truthful” on the supply and production situation.
“Cooking oil supply has not improved, yet they are one of the huge beneficiaries of foreign currency from the RBZ.
“Oil expressers should publicise what quantities they have given to each retailer or wholesaler as that will also help to identify who is hoarding and overpricing.
“Retailers and wholesalers are tired of this whole unnecessary blame game which always paints a negative picture on the sector, yet truth is wrapped under,” Mutashu charged.
“There are also a few that are privileged or preferred by certain processors who get the product at normal price, but hike the price to match the day’s parallel market rate.
“We suspect they are paying for the cooking oil at the supplier with forex, hence the price disparities,” he added.
RBZ governor John Mangudya recently rushed home from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in Indonesia to attend to the domestic economic crisis.
He has since held meetings with the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), medical doctors, pharmaceutical companies and oil expressers to assure them about the release of emergency funds for their import needs.