Twelve-month consumer inflation in Zimbabwe surged to a new record high of 1,594% in January, the country's Central Statistical Office said on Monday. Analysts said the sharp acceleration of the rate at which prices are increasing on an annual basis signaled that Harare was losing what little control it had over the economy.
The latest inflation figure soared more than 300 percentage points over the December rate of 1,281%, lending credence to the forecast late last year from an International Monetary Fund official that hyperinflation could hit 4,000% by year's end.
Zimbabwe's inflation rate remained firmly ensconced as the world's highest.
CSO Acting Director Moffat Nyoni said the cost of living rose 45.4% month over month, compared with a gain in December of 36,3%. Nyoni said non-food items contributed most to the rise, including electricity, gas and other fuels. Food and non-alcoholic beverage prices increased 1,456% in the 12-month period, Nyoni said.
Economist Daniel Ndlela told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that hyperinflation is weighing heavily on a restive population.
Chief Economist Prosper Chitambara of the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute said government overspending reflected by a bloated cabinet, and voluminous central bank printing of money, are driving hyperinflation.
Analysts said Zimbabwe's foundering economy could turn out to be the Achilles heel of President Robert Mugabe, in power since 1980. Ordinary Zimbabweans who seemed reluctant to challenge the Mugabe government on purely political grounds now seem more prepared to take action as their economic survival is jeopardized.
Resident doctors at the four major public hospitals in Harare and Bulawayo have been on strike since December 21. Primary and secondary school teachers went on strike early last week, and could be joined by state workers if ongoing talks fail.
Harare gave all public workers a 300% salary increase at the start of this year - but civil servants say that does not even begin to offset hugely increased prices.
Secretary General Wellington Chibebe of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions said Harare must brace for more unrest having failed to tackle the economic crisis.
Harare had predicted that inflation would slow to between 350% to 400 percent before the end of the year. But the IMF has warned is might reach 4,000%.