Dollar Prices Mean The Poor Go Hungry

food_basketSupermarket prices in Zimbabwe's capital Harare are soaring - putting a number of basic commodities out of the reach of the average consumer.

A snap survey by Business Times at a Spar in Borrowdale, one of the city’s upmarket suburbs, confirmed that scores of Zimbabweans cannot afford to even fill a shopping basket.

This is despite the fact that the twice-yearly Economist Intelligence Unit survey, which is intended as a guide for multinational companies who have employees living around the world, recently ranked Harare as the world’s second-cheapest city to live in.

After the collapse of the country’s economy, in April the government licensed businesses to sell goods in foreign currency, mainly the US dollar.

However, the government insists that US$1 is equivalent to R10, ignoring the official exchange rate.

A shopping basket consisting of a litre of milk, a loaf of bread, 500g margarine, 1kg rice, 1kg potatoes, 1kg onions, 1kg tomatoes, six eggs, a 2kg chicken pack, one litre of orange juice, 120ml deodorant and 100ml toothpaste costs about $29 (R290). This is equal to a fifth of the average civil servant’s monthly salary.

Borrowdale Spar was one of the few supermarkets that had goods on the shelves last year, while other retailers and supermarkets had gaping empty shelves.

The Spar was also among the first businesses licensed to sell goods in hard currency in October last year.

A recent report by the international civil society organisation Civicus argued that selling in US dollars and South African rands had pushed up prices of basic food items, water, fuel and medicines, “putting them out of reach of ordinary people”.

Last week, most service stations in Harare were selling petrol at $1.20 a litre, while a few charged $1.17.

Diesel was $1.06 a litre.

While the average salary for a civil servant is about $150, a teacher’s average salary recently increased from about $80 to $155, according to Harare-based Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, an NGO working towards social justice regarding issues of debt and trade.

But in a statement issued earlier this month, teachers’ unions Zimta and PTUZ called the increase “inadequate” and not a proper living wage.

The unions said that even with the salary increases teachers would be unable to provide for families and that, at current costs, the average Zimbabwean family requires at least three times the increased salary to meet its basic needs.

But, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit survey, “Harare has been ranked the least-expensive global location for several years, mainly due to hyperinflation and a constantly weakening currency. This year Zimbabwe’s cost of living index has jumped 118% and it is now ranked 275th most expensive out of 276 global locations.”

Sunday Times (SA)

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