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Harare Backtracks on Price Rollback - But Business Arrests Top 6,000

The Zimbabwean government has backtracked on an order barring private imports of food and other basic goods, while increasing fourfold the amount it will pay farmers for cattle and raising the price of cooking oil under pressure from Indian suppliers.

Despite this tacit concession that Harare's war on prices is bogging down, authorities continue to crack down on alleged price control violators. Police spokesman Oliver Mandipaka confirmed that some 6,213 people have been arrested since early July under Operation “Dzikisai Mitengo," Shona for “Reduce Prices.”

Industry and Trade Minister Obert Mpofu issued a notice Monday repealing his earlier order banning private imports of food and other basic goods. National Chamber of Commerce President Marah Hativagone welcomed the price concessions.

VOA was unable to obtain comment from Mpofu despite repeated attempts.

Meanwhile, an Indian group participating in a joint venture with a state firm threatened to exit the US$13 million seed oil extraction initiative in Chitungwiza, near Harare.

The government raised the price of a liter of cooking oil from Z$22,000 to Z$91,000.

The state-controlled Cold Storage Company increased the price it pays farmers for cattle to Z$12 million a head from Z$3 million as set under the price offensive. But the animals still go for Z$30 million dollars on the thriving but illegal parallel market.

Police deployed in rural areas to enforce the price rollback met stiff resistance from farmers who vowed not to sell cattle at what they considered giveaway prices.

Cold Storage Company Chief Executive Ngoni Chinogaramombe said the state abattoir has only breeding stock left.

Economist John Robertson told Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Harare’s threat to nationalize firms that defy its directive has backfired.

Chief parliamentary whip Joram Gumbo of the ruling ZANU-PF party said that despite shortages the government will push on with the operation, dismissing criticism that it is a populist measure intended to curry favor with voters in next year’s elections.

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