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Harare Targets Bakers as Bread Prices Continue to  Rise

The Zimbabwean government has moved to crack down on what it alleges are price gougers exploiting critical shortages of bread and other essential items. The state-run Herald newspaper reported that police arrested some 17 bakers Tuesday in what the authorities dubbed Operation Chingwa, or "Operation Bread."

According to reports, some sellers were charging between Z$130,000 and Z$220,000, or US$1.30-US$2.20 at the official exchange rate, for a loaf of bread. The Herald quoted government officials as charging that bakers, grain millers and transport operators were sabotaging the economy by raising prices out of reach.

Commuter omnibus operators have also raised fares by about 40% over government-approved prices, in response to the recent fuel price surge to Z$600,000 a liter.

Economist Prosper Chitambara of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the government can’t keep prices from rising with such crackdowns on producers and vendors.

Meanwhile, the Bakers Industry Workers Union says consumers aren’t the only ones feeling the pain as grain, flour and bread prices soar. Union spokesman Justice Mucheni said several hundred workers have been laid off, especially in Harare, as companies reduce costs wherever possible to remain economically viable.

Mucheni complained that companies have been firing workers on frivolous grounds so they won’t have to make good on retrenchment compensation packages.

Bakers Association of Zimbabwe Chairman Burombo Mudumo declined to comment to the Voice of America, but told the Herald bakers must import flour at double the price usually charged by millers in Zimbabwe when flour is available in the country.

Union leader Mucheni told Studio 7 reporter Patience Rusere about the economic crunch bakery workers are feeling along with Zimbabwean households.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...