Bread war continues

Letter from home


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Bread war continues

Dear Family and Friends,

Zimbabwe has been slowly and painfully slipping downwards for the last six years but this week the pace moved into top speed. It has been a shocking week here and everyone is reeling as services and prices have suddenly taken on a life of their own.

Petrol was Z$260,000 a litre three weeks ago. Last week it rose to Z$360,000 and this week it galloped to Z$500,000 and then disappeared altogether.

In the supermarkets the price increases are staggering and everywhere you see people bending down and counting digits on stickers before turning away empty handed. The smallest bag of shopping now needs great handfuls of money. Many people have resorted to handing a huge stack of notes to the tellers in shops and asking them to use the money counting machines to arrive at the required amount because it just takes too long to count by hand. Either way the queues at the tills are endlessly long as tellers count and recount and then struggle to close their tills, which bulge at the seams with our almost worthless bank notes.

This week I met a friend who is a retired civil servant on a government medical aid scheme. The pensioner showed me a letter just received saying that, with immediate effect, monthly contributions had increased by 900 percent. No apologies, no excuses, no humanity – not even for a woman as old as President Mugabe.

In complete contrast to the realities of four-figure inflation, this week a dramatic crisis arose with bread. Bakers put the prices up, the government ordered them to put it back down. Bakers took out a full page advert in the press detailing the increases of everything from flour and yeast to wages, packaging and delivery.

At the price stipulated by government, bakers said they were operating at a loss and putting 20,000 jobs at risk. The government refused to allow the price increases and called in the police. In a week over 280 bakers and shop assistants have been fined for overcharging. As the bread war continued all week the obvious happened and fewer and fewer shops had bread on their shelves as less and less loaves were baked.

It has been an absurd but now familiar case of denial by the government. The inflation figure is calculated and published by the government. From April to May the government said that inflation rose by 151 percent and yet they insist that the price of bread must remain unchanged.

Its not funny, just frightening. But one absolutely classic report in the state-owned Herald raised a grimace of a smile. A quote was given by an Assistant Inspector Police woman who said: “I can confirm that we are arresting bakeries for overcharging.” Not bakers, but bakeries : bricks and mortar !

Some months ago the opposition promised a cold winter of discontent in Zimbabwe. Well, it’s cold and we are all very discontented and winter is half way in and now…? Thanks for reading, until next week, ndini shamwari yenyu.

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