HARARE – Many retail outlets — especially in urban areas — are running empty following the recent panic-buying of basic goods by fearful Zimbabweans who were unsettled by government’s much-criticised new economic stabilisation measures.
The new policy measures did not only trigger a dramatic collapse of the country’s surrogate currency — the bond note — on the parallel market, they also provoked shocking increases in the prices of basic commodities, leading to the shopping stampede.
The continuing price madness and market uncertainty going forward comes as retailers are warning the government to stamp out its glaring policy inconsistencies, which have been fingered as a major contributory factor to the current economic turmoil engulfing the nation — which many people say has echoes of the debilitating crisis of 2008.
A Daily News crew which visited several supermarkets in Harare’s central business district yesterday was greeted by many empty shelves — with some shops resorting to filling their racks with bottled water and goods that are traditionally classified as “slow moving items”.
In other cases, some retail outlets had still not opened their doors to the public after shutting shop last week — at the height of the country’s currency and price horror show — while others are still working on limited operating hours.
The president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers Association, Denford Mutashu, blamed the continuing market disequilibrium on the unavailability of foreign currency.
“Retailers and wholesalers are not able to stock up because manufacturers and suppliers have stopped supplying goods and services as they are demanding payment in US dollars, which we do not have,” he told the Daily News.
He added that delays by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube in coming up with “a comprehensive and sustainable national solution” was also exacerbating the situation — warning further that “the more he delays, the more impoverished and obliterated the retail sector will become”.
The president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), Sifelani Jabangwe, also said uncertainty surrounding the government’s economic stabilisation measures was largely behind the recent panic-buying of goods.
“There is uncertainty regarding what policies will be announced and how these will affect the business environment.
“Manufacturers are also unsure of how to price their products and there has also been lower allocation of foreign currency to industry. But the biggest problem is uncertainty,” he said.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s plans to kick-start the revival of the country’s battered economy received a severe jolt when the government’s austerity measures which were announced at the beginning of this month were widely rejected by long-suffering Zimbabweans.
This was after Ncube announced a slew of measures aimed at breathing life into the country’s sickly economy — including the introduction of the unpopular two cents per dollar tax on electronic payments.
Ncube’s measures, which were announced on the same day that the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor John Mangudya presented his post-election Monetary Policy Statement (MPS) — subsequently witnessed the crash of bond notes against the US dollar on the black market.
Since then, there has been widespread panic among consumers that things could deteriorate to the horrific lows of 2008 when hyper-inflation decimated the Zimbabwe dollar and emptied supermarkets.
Meanwhile, Ncube recently warned that things were likely to get more painful before they got better as the government sought to stabilise and rebuild the country’s economy.
“We need to stop the bleeding and this is one way to do it. We can’t do this without pain. At the end, we will be glad. We need to fix our problem together. I need all hands on deck.
“I will be honest … there will be a little pain as we try to redress the economy. People don’t realise that already they have been paying indirectly for the sickly economy,” he told journalists recently at the unveiling of his Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP) programme.
While Ncube’s measures have caused distress and anxiety at home, the IMF and other multilateral institutions appear to be impressed by the path that he has taken so far — although there are no clear indications yet whether they will release the money that the government desperately needs to rebuild the shattered economy.
At the same time, Mangudya has assured jittery members of the public, as well as concerned businesses, that the RBZ has availed more foreign currency to shore up stocks of basic consumer goods.
“There are no shortages of basic commodities. On the contrary, foreign exchange currently being allocated for basic and essential commodities has instead been increased to ensure that shortages of commodities do not occur within the economy,” he has said.
Mangudya rushed home from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in Indonesia on Friday to attend to the domestic economic crisis.
He has since held meetings with the CZI, medical doctors, pharmaceutical companies and oil expressers to assure them about the release of emergency funds for their import needs.