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Zimbabweans Suffer as Basic Goods Subjected to Price Control - 2002-12-07

In Zimbabwe, an additional list of controlled prices for consumer goods has been published. Wholesalers warn the controls will remove many products from open sale. The new shortages will make life only more miserable for Zimbabweans.

Toothpaste, washing powder and imported rice are among the latest items added to the long list of products subject to price control in Zimbabwe.

The price controls are widely ignored. Many supermarkets in urban areas break the law everyday by selling goods at prices above those fixed by the government. They claim the price controls are unrealistic.

A spokesman for one supermarket chain says, for example, that the controlled retail price of chicken is only one quarter of the wholesale price.

He says when stocks run out in early January, his stores will not be able to fill their shelves.

The government introduced the first batch of controlled retail prices ahead of the elections in March, which gave President Robert Mugabe another six years in power.

Those prices led to the disappearance of many staple foods, as retailers said they could not afford to sell them at a loss.

Zimbabwe has a sophisticated retail sector. Even in small towns, supermarkets provide most food needs for the increasingly hungry urban population. But as their shelves become bare, many staple foods could only be found on the black market, at prices too high for the majority of people.

Police and government officials have increased inspections of price-controlled goods, and more supermarket managers are being prosecuted for violating price controls.

The government repeatedly accuses retailers, especially those with white management, of profiteering.

Some veterans of Zimbabwe's war for independence raided bakeries and outlying supermarkets in the last week, threatening staff for breaking price controls.