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Licensed Zimbabwean Shops Start Selling in US Dollars

The Zimbabwean government has licensed some merchants to sell goods in U.S. dollars, in an attempt to address the chronic shortage of basic consumer items. Tendai Maphosa visited some of shops in Harare and filed this report for VOA.

For years, if Zimbabweans wanted to see full supermarket shelves they would have to travel outside the country. That changed last week, when some supermarkets with licenses to sell goods in U.S. dollars stocked up. Now, customers used to buying basic food items such as sugar, cooking oil, flour and rice on the black market or in neighboring countries are busy filling up their shopping carts.

One happy shopper who spoke to VOA said the government should have authorized these shops earlier. He said he would rather pay higher prices at home than travel to South Africa where prices are lower.

"For the sake of convenience it's easier to buy using U.S. dollars it saves you time, it saves you the fuel and a lot of Zimbabweans have U.S. dollars," he said.

He also noted that even when goods were available at Zimbabwean dollar prices it was difficult to pay for them due to the money shortage the country is experiencing.

"The maximum that you can get is 20,000 but I checked in the shop, there's stuff going for 400,000 Zim dollars," said another customer. "You have to go to the bank for 20 days without spending a cent then you buy one item. So U.S. dollar is the way to go at the moment."

Another shopper, while happy that he could buy his basics locally and from under one roof had misgivings about the idea because it excludes the majority of Zimbabweans.

"For the average man in the street, the man in the rural areas where people are dying because there is no food, I think nothing has been done," explained another shopper. "It's about time where people looked at the majority of the people in Zimbabwe; this does not help them in any way. It's just the fewer the richer who have access to the US dollars who can manage to buy in these shops."

He also pointed out that most of the imported goods in the supermarket, such as butter, detergents, toothpaste, sodas and even milk, used to be manufactured in Zimbabwe.

"We are importing 95 percent of the stuff now, there is no industry in Zimbabwe," he continued. "What's left is just the infrastructure and hopefully should things change [it] should not take too long to get back into production. Now we are supporting South African industry."

While it is illegal to do business in foreign currency without a license, many businesses have been accepting U.S. dollars, South African rand and Botswana pula for a long time. Landlords are also charging rentals in foreign currency, a practice that is illegal under current Zimbabwean law.

Zimbabwe boasts the highest inflation rate in the world. Critics of President Robert Mugabe's government blame its economic crisis on mismanagement. He denies the charge, saying all Zimbabwe's ills are the result of sanctions imposed by the west. Mr. Mugabe says the sanctions are meant to punish Zimbabwe for taking farmland from white farmers for the resettlement of landless blacks.