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Zimbabwe Government Allows Some Shops to Accept Foreign Currency

In Zimbabwe, many residents of the capital, Harare, say they're concerned about the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe's decision to allow selected shops and retail outlets to charge for items in foreign currency. But business operators say they're delighted at the development, regardless of what consumers are going through. Voice of America English to Africa reporter Safari Njema in Harare, Zimbabwe, says that following the granting of foreign currency licenses to selected supermarkets and retail outlets in the capital, shelves in those stores are laden with scarce commodities. They include maize-meal, or "mealie-meal", cooking oil, rice, flour, soap and toothpaste.

Some consumers are able to buy the items with forex, or foreign exchange, they've obtained from trading on the parallel market or from friends and relatives abroad.

But most aren't so lucky. They shake their heads in disbelief and exit the shops empty handed. A 50-year-old man from Warren Park, who introduced himself only as Christopher, says the government has obviously lost touch with the daily realities facing citizens. Waving his hands in anger, the father of two says the outlook for the average Zimbabwean is bleak, "People are earning their salaries in local currency. Which group are they trying to [serve]? We are really surprised. For a [ruling party] which used to say 'We are the people's party…," now they are dividing people."

His view is echoed by 60-year-old Victor Chinogurei, who lives in Sunningdale. A self-employed builder, Chinogurei says people are battling to get money for rent which is now charged in foreign currency. He explains that people who pay their rent in foreign currency should not have to raise even more forex to buy the basics. He also accuses the government of adopting what he calls 'double standards.'

"The most surprising thing is that our government is always against the Americans and the British, but those are the currencies that we are using in the shops, so I don't know the rationale," he says.

Stokisi Chakanetsa works at one of the big department stores located close to the city center. He says consumers need to understand shop owners need to charge prices that keep them in business, "It's not like we want to use this currency but you must understand where we import we are buying in forex and this is why we have pegged our products in forex. We know it's a burden to the ordinary man but we have no choice."

Stokisi says as stores are increasingly allowed to sell products in foreign currency, prices will drop because they will be competing for clients. He adds they gross about five thousand US dollars daily. This situation, he says, benefits the nation because a percentage of the money is paid to government in taxes.

Stokisi argues it's better for goods to be available rather than having retailers holding back stock.