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Police Monitor Prices In Zimbabwe Stores As Food Shortages Worsen

The Zimbabwean government deployed police and soldiers in stores on Tuesday to monitor prices on a full-time basis as business leaders meanwhile warned that they cannot afford to restock shelves and national fuel stocks rapidly dwindled.

Zimbabwe Republic Police spokesman Oliver Mandipaka said told another 468 alleged violators of price control regulations had been arrested in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to some 1,768 since Harare intensified its crackdown on the weekend.

Despite - or because of - the government effort, consumers faced severe shortages of basic commodities and fuel, hindering transport companies. But Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu and Mandipaka said that the crackdown would continue.

Those arrested included senior executives of leading retail chains such as National Foods, Inscor, TM supermarkets and Nandos. On Tuesday police arrested managers of Capri and Snacks Box along with car dealers who had resisted cutting prices.

Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries President Marah Hativagone said many manufacturers have indicated that they cannot follow the government directive not to reduce production, setting the stage for a showdown with the government which has said production levels must be maintained or Harare will seize companies.

The chaos in business was mirrored on Tuesday in the courts, where police arrived late with charge sheets in disarray. The Home Affairs Ministry later said prosecution would henceforth be coordinated with the Office of the Attorney General, which had been bypassed in enforcement following promulgation of a price control act.

Many accused were released on summons to appear in court Wednesday.

Lawyer Jonathan Samkange, representing many of those being prosecuted, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that his clients face charges under the price control act promulgated late last week by the government.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions meanwhile was vowing to fight a proposal to cut salaries along with prices under Harare's scorched-earth war on inflation.

The union said some employer representatives have already put the proposal on the table with affiliate unions. Sources said the cabinet task force behind the price cuts is pushing employment councils to reduce salaries. The ZCTU said the construction union has informed it that employers want to meet to talk about pay cuts.

ZCTU Secretary General Wellington Chibebe told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Zimbabwean labor law forbids breaching agreements with unions and workers once they have been concluded.

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