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Living Costs For Zimbabwe Families Soar Again, Led By Education

The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe said Friday that a family of six now needs some Z$460,000 a month to buy food and other basic commodities - an 87% rise over the December level of Z$246,000 and several times the average salary.

The Consumer Council said education costs posted the biggest jump at 262%. Sugar, bread, roller meal, clothing and transport also posted large gains. Producers are still asking the government to let them raise prices on almost everything, reflecting the entrenched hyperinflation which was last measured at an annual 1,205%.

The council's manager for Matabeleland, Comfort Muchekeza, told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the surge in January was mainly driven by speculation that the central bank would devalue the currency.

Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono surprised speculators and economists alike on January 31 when he said he would not ratify black market prices by devaluing further. However, leaving the official rate at Z$250 to the U.S. dollar has not stopped the parallel market from depreciating the currency further to rates over Z$5,000.

Elsewhere, commuter omnibus operators continued to raise fares despite arrests and insistent government warnings that such rate increases are illegal. Commuters say they are facing significant weekly or even daily fare increases.

Mutare residents said a one-way trip from the city to Sakubva, Hillside or Marymount which used to cost Z$1,000 (US$4 at the official rate, 20 U.S. cents at the parallel market rate) now costs Z$1,500. A trip from the suburbs of Chinhoyi into town has doubled in recent days to Z$1,000, leading man residents to walk to work.

In Harare, bus fares change daily, but a typical one-way trip cost between Z$1,000 and Z$2,500 depending on the distance and the operator, among other factors.

Chief Economist Prosper Chitambara of the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute in Harare told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that further fare increases are probably in store as transport operators themselves face rising costs which they must pass on to consumers.

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