Order to cut prices empties shelves in Harare

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Shelves lay empty in some of Harare’s main supermarkets on July 2, with bread and milk, in particular, hard to find following last week’s demand by President Robert Mugabe’s government that retailers halve prices of basic goods.

Rather than risk arrest by the police, some retailers have cut prices and run down stocks, but others have maintained prices in the face of renewed threats from the government.

On July 2 Vice-President Joseph Msika, standing in for Mr Mugabe while he attends an African Union summit in Ghana, reaffirmed the government’s threat to take over manufacturers who failed to comply with the pricing directives aimed at reducing an official inflation rate of 4,500 per cent.

A number of supermarkets reported chaotic scenes as they were forced by police and government price inspectors to empty stockrooms and sell products at cut prices. Bakers have slashed bread production and supermarkets who had any deliveries at all sold their supplies early.

Echoing comments made by Mr Mugabe last week, Mr Msika described shops and factories that failed to comply with the price directive as “sell-outs” and claimed they were working with “outside forces” to destabilise the economy and bring about regime change.

“We will not brook any attempts to thwart our efforts to correct this undesirable state of affairs,” he said at the funeral of a senior army officer. “If you fail to produce, we take your factory, we take your licence and install blacks who will produce for us.”

Obert Mpofu, the industry minister, who last week extended price reductions to rents and almost all manufactured products, said: “Some businesses are resisting this order. We are going to deal with them accordingly. We are going to arrest them.”

Police say that businessmen arrested last week will be brought to court later this week.

Business leaders warn that the campaign cannot work.

Marah Hativagone, president of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, said business had lost “trust and confidence in the government because of the price ban”.

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