Zimbabwe: "Humanitarian crisis is building"

News and Press Release
Originally published
Donwald Pressly, Cape Town, South Africa

The Zimbabwe opposition Movement for Democratic Change's economics spokesperson, Eddie Cross, says that judging from his own bakery business in Bulawayo the country's inflation rate now exceeds 10 000%.

In his regular newsletter on Wednesday, he said that he was told by a supplier that flour for his bakery would now cost Z$250 000 for a 50kg bag, which cost Z$30 000 just recently. He said the supplier in Harare now demanded that it be picked up 600km away.

Cross said his own staff had been given a 100% raise at the end of the last two months but it still left them with insufficient funds to cover their basic living costs.

"We have started to provide food for them in addition to their wages or they simply will not be able to feed their families and come to work."

One major supplier had told him they were selling every product in their range below cost.

"They are headed for bankruptcy and do not know what to do next. Another service provider told me they were not able to replace their stocks of spares and essential inputs."

Fuel was trading at Z$45 000 a litre with the local currency trading at Z$50 000 to US$1. "I estimate prices are rising 20% a day.

Zimbabwe could not emulate Mozambique when it went through a similar currency and inflation crisis as it had relatively sophisticated currency controls, he noted. The use of either the South African rand or the United States dollar was illegal within the country.

"From other countries' experience this situation will be bound to escalate the collapse of the formal sector, exacerbate human and capital flight, destroy the value of savings in any form -- except property and the stock market -- and plunge civil servants, whose conditions of service are less flexible, into a state of crisis.

"Food is scarce and unaffordable and a real humanitarian crisis is building up -- one that might still threaten national stability and put the lives of millions at stake," said Cross.

"There is plenty of evidence that Zimbabweans living in the diaspora are pouring money into the country to try and keep their families afloat. With 4,5-million adult Zimbabweans abroad, this carries quite a punch and is probably the single most important factor in helping keep things stable."

Rejected calls

Meanwhile, South Africa again rejected calls for tough action against Zimbabwe on Tuesday ahead of a visit by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is expected to press the issue.

Blair is scheduled to meet South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been mediating between President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party and the MDC opposition through quiet diplomacy.

Britain and other Western powers have accused Mugabe of widespread human rights abuses and mismanaging the economy.

British newspapers said Blair, who has urged African leaders to pressure Mugabe, might make another attempt to push Mbeki on Zimbabwe this week during a farewell trip to the continent.