“One twenty! Can you believe it?” exclaimed the twenty-something South African tourist in Zimbabwe from across the Limpopo for the first time. “One-hundred-and-twenty! For Heaven’s sake!” the young man kept repeating.
1.20 wasn’t the time…or the speed limit on the capital’s streets.
Graeme Wicks was clearly exasperated. He just couldn’t believe it – “120 f**king rands for three beers!”
“Although on the whole the country presented a better picture than what I expected after reading media reports, I found the prices of groceries and other electric gadgets on the high side,” said Wicks.
Speaking from the foyer of the Holiday Inn where he stayed during his visit, Wicks said he expected to find prices of mostly SA manufactured goods to be cheaper as “you guys are using the dollar and the rand is fast losing value against it.”
The SA currency has lost about 25 percent of its value against the US dollar since the beginning of the year. For first time visitors to Zimbabwe, especially those from south of the border, prices of most basic goods and services are overboard.
Many visitors are heard complaining that the country is by far one of the most expensive countries in the region for shopping – bar Angola. Zimbabwean consumers pay more to eat and drink than most of their neighbours.
Rosemary Siyachitema, executive director of the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), concurred, saying local consumers have increasingly found themselves on the receiving end of the stick considering that with the introduction of the multi-currency system, “all their savings were wiped away and they had to start from scratch.”
School fees, rentals, food, medical treatment and transport costs have not helped the lot of consumers, added the consumer body’s chief, telling Harare News that “on our part as CCZ, we have made this known to policy makers. We have advocated for the enactment of a Consumer Protection Act which should create a level playing field for consumers in the marketplace.”
Siyachitema points to the economic situation in Zimbabwe as causing the problems consumers are experiencing with prices.
“You must be aware that local productivity has never reached the levels predicted when the multi-currency system was introduced back in 2009,” she said, adding: “Overall, the local manufacturers’ capacity utilisation is lagging around 30% and the impact on unit cost is that local basic commodity prices are not competitive in comparison to imported products.
“But beside this, there has to be a real change in Zimbabwe’s economy: improvement of manufacturing capacity rates, assistance to companies that are struggling, resurgence of companies like CAPS, Cairns, David Whitehead and many other key Zimbabwean companies that have closed down,” she insisted, emphasising: “There needs to be funds for recapitalisation, bank funds that are affordable and employment creation.”
However, the CCZ director emphasised that her body has no mandate or powers to change prices as this “is the job of Government.” “We work at influencing policy so that it can be consumer friendly,” she reiterated.
Siyachitema called for “our agricultural sector to be funded properly, irrigation especially, so that we increase production which feeds into manufacturing and therefore food production that can feed the whole of Zimbabwe and have surplus for export.”
All is not doom and gloom however, with the CCZ hoping that with an operational consumer protection act consumers can enjoy their rights in a functional, vibrant and competitive economic environment.