HARARE, Zimbabwe — Weary Zimbabweans are facing a new wave of massive price increases that put many basic goods out of their reach.
Independent finance houses said in an assessment last week that annual inflation rose this month to 1,063,572 percent, based on prices of a basket of basic foodstuffs. As stores opened for business last Wednesday, a small pack of locally produced coffee beans cost just short of 1 billion Zimbabwe dollars. A decade ago, that sum would have bought 60 new cars.
A loaf of bread cost 200 million Zimbabwe dollars — enough for 12 new cars a decade ago. Fresh price rises were expected after the state Grain Marketing Board announced up to 25-fold increases in its prices to commercial millers for wheat and corn meal staple.
The collapsing economy was a major concern of voters who dealt longtime President Robert Mugabe a defeat in March 29 elections. His challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, topped the poll but did not win the simple majority needed to avoid a runoff. The two face each other in a second round June 27.
Mugabe launched his runoff campaign with a rally at his party’s headquarters in Harare on Sunday.
The opposition’s campaigning has been hampered by violence blamed on Mugabe’s government and party. The opposition claims Tsvangirai is the target of a government assassination plot. He had been out of Zimbabwe since shortly after the March 29 first round before returning last Saturday.
Mugabe, speaking as he reviewed graduating police cadets last Wednesday, characterized the opposition as a tool of former colonial ruler Britain, a familiar campaign theme from him. He also accused the opposition of fanning violence. Independent observers have said that while there have been some retaliatory attacks by the opposition, the vast majority of the attacks have been carried out by Mugabe supporters.
The opposition, “formed at the behest of Britain in 1999, is now on an evil crusade of dividing our people on political lines,” Mugabe said.
The economy was on shop clerk Jessica Rukuni’s mind as she left the public swimming pool in downtown Harare’s central park with three disappointed children. She found the new admission price of 100 million Zimbabwe dollars — 30 U.S. cents — out of reach.
“The point is that it’s far too much for most people who don’t get U.S. dollars,” she said.
The divorcee’s income is about one U.S. dollar a day. Her family has one basic meal a day.
The price of two pounds of chicken more than doubled to 1 billion Zimbabwe dollars last Tuesday. Rental for the month of June of a two-bedroom apartment rose to 22 billion Zimbabwe dollars — eight times the May price.(p2)