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Zimbabweans Struggle as Inflation Bites

Zimbabwe's more than 1,000 percent inflation rate is the highest in the world. Prices of just about everything are soaring, and Zimbabweans are finding it harder to cope, as salaries for those lucky enough to have a job cannot keep up.

Just days after Zimbabwe introduced a 100,000 Zimbabwe dollar note, about 98 cents at the official exchange rate, the price of bread jumped from 84 cents to a $1.28. Now, the government is threatening a blitz on those selling bread at the new price.

The state controlled daily newspaper, The Herald, quotes a government official as saying the increase is unauthorized. The price of a basic loaf of bread and other basics is controlled in Zimbabwe. But some bakers circumvent the controls by making fancy loaves and rolls, on which there is no control.

But Burombo Mudumo of the Bakers Association of Zimbabwe told The Herald that the increases were due to the shortage of flour and the rising price of fuel.

But bread is just one of the many items priced beyond the reach of Zimbabwe's poor. The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, a consumer watchdog, says a family of six now needs about $500 a month to meet basic needs. The majority of Zimbabweans do not earn that much.

A high school teacher with more than 20 years of service told VOA, he takes home $415. Zimbabwe Congress of Trades Union (ZCTU) spokesperson Mulamuleli Sibanda told VOA the national average wage is less than $80 per month, but workers in some sectors earn as little as $10 per month.

The Consumer Council report says some consumers are forgoing basic food items as a result of the runaway inflation. It urged employers to keep the wages of their workers in line with the rate of inflation.

A picture on the front page of Wednesday's Herald of a man taking his sick wife to the hospital in a pushcart is just one graphic illustration of the hard times poor Zimbabweans are experiencing.

ZCTU's Sibanda says negotiations are continuing with the government and employers to increase wages. The workers' body has warned that, should the talks fail, it will call a general strike.

Zimbabwe is experiencing its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980. Food, fuel and foreign currency are in short supply, and more than 80 percent of the work force is unemployed.

Critics of President Robert Mugabe blame mismanagement by his government for the problems. Mr. Mugabe in turn blames "sanctions" imposed on the country by western countries, as, according to him, punishment for the sometimes-violent land reform exercise, which saw white farmers losing their land for the resettlement of landless blacks.

The European Union and the United States have imposed a travel ban on Mr. Mugabe and senior members of his party and government for alleged human rights abuses. No trade sanctions are in place.