Zimbabwe: Over 1.300 arrested in price control chaos

Harare / ZW. (wib) It´s reported that over 1.300 shop owners and business managers have been arrested in a bizarre attempt by Robert Mugabe´s regime to enforce price controls in the country. State media reports say most of those arrested have been fined, while 33 company executives picked up Friday appeared in court Monday. Some of those arrested include top executives at clothing chain Edgars. Michael Fowler and Zed Koudanaris directors of fast food chain Innscor and Gavin Sainsbury, the Chief executive of Colcom Foods.

Just like Roman Emperor Diocletian in AD301 Mugabe has ordered that all prices should be slashed by half and has set about trying to punish those not conforming to the directive. Economists say the regime only has to look at history to understand that the new policy will only help create shortages.

Although Emperor Diocletian decreed that violations were punishable by death, Mugabe hasn´t gone quite that far – yet. The regime announced a new law on Saturday making it an offence to defy the price cuts. Industry Minister Obert Mpofu directed all shops to display the new price tags. According to a government gazette issued Friday all manufacturers need written approval for any price changes. Wholesalers and retailers can only use a flat mark up of 20 percent, while a further 20 percent is allowed if transport costs are for an area over 40 kilometer.

Businessman Eddie Cross described the controls as unworkable. A ten kilogram empty bag of maize meal for example costs 75.000 ZWD and yet government demands that a fully packed one is sold for 44.742 ZWD. Last week witnessed near stampedes, mostly in Harare, as people besieged shops while following price-monitoring teams. Some shops were forced to recruit extra security guards for fear of riots breaking out. In Bulawayo one petrol station owner was forced by police to sell his petrol below cost, at gunpoint. He had initially refused arguing the petrol had cost him more to purchase. Businesses have argued that new prices being forced on them do not even cover their basic costs.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said the current siege would backfire and plunge the economy into serious chaos. «Already, our embattled nation has begun to feel the pinch: shortages of fuel, basic commodities and a systematic destruction of the formal sector». He likened the current crackdown with the violent farm invasions, the Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland and Operation Murambatsvina, saying they were all motivated by Mugabe´s desire to retain power and neutralize all potential opposition forces.

Exiled businessman Mutumwa Mawere said Mugabe was pushing the argument that price increases were part of a western sponsored regime change agenda. He told Newsreel, «the wheels have come off» and that the pricing chaos was just another political battle for Mugabe. People on the ground will appreciate the short-term benefits of price cuts but in the long run they would suffer as soon as goods disappear from the shelves, Mawere added (source: SW Radio Africa).