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Zimbabwe VP Threatens to Seize Firms That Refuse To Cut Prices Or That Halt Production

Zimbabwean Vice President Joseph Msika on Monday threatened that Harare would shut down and seize businesses which defied a government directive to slash prices by half, while consumers say the government action had emptied store shelves.

Police said they had arrested 20 business executives, including Senator Siriro Majuru of the ruling ZANU-PF party, who represents the Murewa-Goromonzi constituency.

State security agents on Friday assaulted Besset Chimhini, a branch manager with the TM supermarket chain, accusing him of defying government price orders. Contacted on Monday, Chimhini declined to comment, saying he now fears for his life.

Zimbabwean consumers faced chaos as they sought food and other necessities.

Some businesses are playing cat and mouse with state agents seeking to enforce the price cuts. Fuel dealers were refusing outright to comply with the state directive.

Business sources said a number of manufacturers have suspended or cut back their production. Consumers are finding store shelves empty. Goods that have vanished from store shelves included maize meal, sugar, bread, milk and beef.

Speaking at the Heroes Acre burial of retired Maj. Gen. Gideon Lifa, Msika described as "sellouts" business people who refused to follow state price-cutting orders. He said they were in league with foreign forces trying to bring down the government.

He said Harare would not hesitate to seize businesses that did not cut prices. "We will not brook any attempts to thwart our efforts to correct this undesirable state of affairs," he said, accusing manufacturers of "creating artificial shortages of goods."

Chief Economist Prosper Chitambara of the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that state price controls are a populist gesture are meant to calm a restive population.

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