unaffordable food

Zimbabwe price madness: Rural people affected the most

By Veneranda Langa

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Posted on June 23, 2023 09:24

 © Rural communities in Zimbabwe are feeling the pinch as the Zimbabwe dollar declines. (Photo: WikimediaCommons, CC, Liberty Mugari)
Rural communities in Zimbabwe are feeling the pinch as the Zimbabwe dollar declines. (Photo: WikimediaCommons, CC, Liberty Mugari)

The continued sharp decline of the Zimbabwean dollar (ZWL) ahead of the August 23 harmonised elections is affecting the rural populace the most, the constituency where the ruling Zanu-PF party enjoys the majority of its support.

If the price madness in Zimbabwe continues, it could spell a disaster for rural communities as they lack financial intelligence, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) spokesperson Obert Masaraure tells The Africa Report.

“People in rural areas survive on savings from farming produce.  With the continuous ZWL devaluation, the rural community will be rendered impoverished,” says Masaraure.

“Rural communities are unable to make informed decisions to hedge their savings from the marauding inflation, which leaves them more vulnerable.  They are not informed about the value of the ZWL against the greenback and some are selling wares at a loss,” he adds.

Alarming prices & food handout bribes

Food prices have soared ahead of the 23 August elections and the Zimbabwe currency (ZWL) has alarmingly lost value in a short space of time.

As of 14 June, the official exchange rate was ZWL$5,978 to the greenback, while the dollar is trading at ZWL$10,000 in the parallel, informal market.  Bread prices have shockingly risen from ZWL$1 800 in April to between ZWL$8,000 and ZWL$12,000 per loaf.

There are fears that with the current food inflation in Zimbabwe, rural voters and other vulnerable people might be manipulated through food handouts by political parties.

Khuthala Fuyane from Filabusi, Matabeleland South province, says villagers are at their most vulnerable state due to hunger and the astronomical price of basic food.

“It will be easy for the ruling Zanu-PF party to buy votes through food handouts. It has happened in past elections,” Fuyane tells The Africa Report.

A Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) June 2023 to September 2023 report showed that most parts of Zimbabwe will remain stressed in terms of food security.  The latest Action Against Hunger report states that 7.7 million Zimbabweans face hunger due to lingering high food prices.

Rural struggles

Shamiso Shiri from rural Mutoko, in Mashonaland East, tells The Africa Report that they are struggling to make ends meet, and almost all shops in the small town are demanding US dollars.

“Those that accept local currency often claim that they are experiencing connectivity problems to frustrate customers so that they end up buying in US dollars.  As rural people, we survive on farming, but we still need to purchase food products like cooking oil, sugar and salt. We also need to pay for transport costs but everything is suddenly priced in US dollars as we head to elections,” she says.

Shiri says the prices are higher than those in urban areas. In Mutoko, a 2-litre bottle of cooking oil which costs $3.60 in urban areas is $4 in rural areas; while a 2kg packet of sugar which costs $2.40 in urban areas costs $3 in rural areas.

Elections are usually bad times for rural people

“To get US dollars, peasant farmers from Mutoko travel to Harare to sell tomatoes and groundnuts,” she says, referring to the capital, 145km away.

In rural Mahuwe, in the Mbire district in Mashonaland Central province, Priscilla Chuma says prices are pegged at the rate of ZWL$10,000 to the greenback, which makes basic commodities unaffordable for rural people.

“We hope that prices will stabilise soon.  Elections are usually bad times for rural people,” Chuma says.

Surviving from diaspora help

Tumisang Ndlovu from rural Mphoengs, Plumtree, bordering Botswana, tells The Africa Report that villagers have been surviving through remittances from relatives who work on farms in Botswana.

“Most villagers do not use the free-falling ZWL. It is worthless and shops are not accepting it. We get money to live from relatives doing piece jobs at farms in Botswana. Shops here prefer the Botswana Pula to the ZWL. We feel that the Zanu-PF led government has failed us,” Ndlovu said.

In Matobo village, Matabeleland province, Samukeliso Siziba says the South African rand is the widely used currency.

“Families depend on remittances from relatives who work in South Africa. Almost every family in Matobo has a relative who works in South Africa,” says Siziba, adding that businesses prefer the rand, and sell wares ordered from South Africa.

“Villagers with local currency have to change it into rand or US dollars to purchase goods,” Siziba says.

No solutions yet

Despite enjoying rural support, Mnangagwa’s government is yet to find solutions to the pricing and currency crisis to ease problems encountered by people.

The president continues to blame businesses for sabotaging the ruling party ahead of polls.

On 13 June during the 369th Zanu-PF party extraordinary session of the politburo, Mnangagwa, again, described the price hikes as an attack on his government to ensure that he loses the 23 August polls.

“As we focus on the elections, the usual machinations and heinous acts of our country’s detractors to reverse our development agenda are glaring.  This is evidenced by their antics, which include the attack on our currency and wanton increases in prices of basic commodities,” he said.

“They will never succeed and the perpetrators are being brought to book. Just upon my announcement of proclamation of elections – two days later, we were under attack,” Mnangagwa said.

Highest world inflation

National Consumer Rights Association (NACORA) spokesperson Effie Ncube says only the rich one percent of Zimbabweans is not affected by the price hikes and inflation.

“One’s political affiliation and whether residing in urban or rural areas does not matter now.  Like urban consumers, rural consumers also have to buy cooking oil, washing powder, bread, meat and other basic commodities. Rural people do not have separate manufacturing industries, and they are now feeling the economic hardships,” Ncube says.

Zimbabwe has once again entered the inglorious world of hyperinflation.

Two months before the polls, inflation is now at record alarming levels, and internationally renowned John Hopkins University economist Steve Hanke now places Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate at 1220%.  Hanke says it is the highest in the world.

“Zimbabwe has once again entered the inglorious world of hyperinflation.  It’s the third episode experienced by Zimbabwe in the past 15 years, and the 66th episode in the Hanke-Krus world hyperinflation table,” Hanke tweeted on 12 June.

Hanke said Zimbabwe is heading towards ‘economic Armageddon’.

Public finance watchdog, the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD,) in its economic review of 14 June warned that ahead of the harmonised elections, this could bring back bad memories of the 2008 record hyperinflation which wiped away people’s savings and investments.

“This coupled with a cocktail of measures announced by authorities almost weekly risks generating unpleasant market sentiment and panic that will fuel a second total collapse of the ZWL.  If uncontrolled, these risks perturbing the economy will derail the government target of a 3.8% national output GDP growth … the electioneering pressures ahead of harmonised elections slated for August 2023 are expected to keep ZWL liquidity highly elevated.”

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