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Harare Reverses Ban on Private Abattoirs As Beef Sector Collapses

Facing the total collapse of the meat supply chain from slaughterhouses to wholesale butchers to retailers, the Zimbabwean government has made a sharp policy turn in asking a major private producer to step in where a state monopoly has failed.

The government asked Surrey Abattoirs, a major private slaughterhouse it shut down three weeks ago while giving the state-controlled Cold Storage Company a monopoly in the sector, to gear up to supply sides of beef to a market that has run dry.

CSC was unable to meet demand after Harare revoked the licenses of private firms, and supermarkets have been closing meat departments for lack of product. to sell. A Surrey manager, speaking on condition of anonymity, told VOA that members of the price task force instructed the firm on Wednesday to resume operations.

But the manager said Surrey Abattoirs might not be able to meet demand because cattle farmers are reluctant to accept low mandated prices. The state is paying Z$5 million (US$20) a head for cattle, compared with Z$30 million on the open market.

Butcher shops in Harare and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city, also said the Cold Storage Company has been restricting meat sales to government entities such as police and army barracks, forcing the smaller private outlets to close their doors.

Economist Eddie Cross, an opposition policy cordinator, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the ongoing price blitz has had a serious impact on his family grocery business, forcing the closer of its meat counter in Bulawayo.

Elsewhere, Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono has taken steps to halt moves by a cabinet-level price task force to seize commercial banking records for investigations.

Gono informed Industry Minister Obert Mpofu, task force chairman, Finance Minister Samuel Mumbengegwi and Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri that the financial sector is within his jurisdiction and that the task force must not meddle there.

Gono said demands for confidential bank client information and banking documents risked destabilizing the financial system and undermining public trust in banks.

Gono has told bank executives to politely show the door to any members of the task force who demand information, summoning the police if they refuse to comply.

Bankers told VOA that the situation is still unclear and that after a shake-up in banking sector carried out by Gono in 2003-2004 it is vulnerable to collapse.

Economist Tony Hawkins said Gono is correct to assert his authority over banks.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...