Moves by the Zimbabwean government to turn back the clock on prices have thrown manufacturers, retailers and consumers into confusion and chaos, but on Friday the ruling ZANU-PF party and President Robert Mugabe reaffirmed the initiative.
The ZANU-PF central committee instructed the Ministry of Justice to draft regulations to control prices. Legal sources said Harare wanted to underpin its measures to avoid a landslide of lawsuits from businesses that have suffered major losses.
Mr. Mugabe dismissed reports that the operation has emptied store shelves, telling businesses, “You must produce. If you don't produce we certainly will seize the factories." The president said he wanted to see prices lowered even further.
Mr. Mugabe was addressing thousands of ruling party supporters including liberation war veterans and youth militia who had marched through Harare to the ruling party's headquarters, forcing some shop owners to close doors and accompany them.
State radio Friday morning called on war veterans and members of the youth militia to assemble at ZANU-PF headquarters, stirring fears they may be also used to enforce price controls. The war veterans and youth militia served as shock troops during the chaotic and often violent land reform program that started in earnest in 2000.
Security agents Friday turned their attention to fuel dealers, ordering them to slash their prices from Z$180,000 a liter – about US$1.25 - to Z$60,000.
But commuter minibus operators had not lowered their fares, consumers said.
Industry Minister Obert Mpofu said distressed companies could seek state relief, and political sources said Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono was instructed to print money to bail out distressed companies.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries President Callisto Jokonya told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that that a business rescue package would be welcome – but that it would not be not sustainable for the longer term.
Following the shopping spree sparked by the government's price-cutting directives, retailers and consumers were reflecting on the true cost of the state initiative.
Correspondent Netsai Mlilo reported from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city.