The Sunday News
Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Business Reporter
RETAILERS must with immediate effect implement price freeze on all basic commodities to allow consumers to access the goods at affordable prices during the 21-day lockdown that kicks off at midnight today.
Those defying the order will be immediately closed, officials said yesterday. The order comes after retail shops last week increased prices of most basic commodities after people started panic buying in anticipation of a lockdown that was eventually announced by President Mnangagwa on Friday. Some retail shops had increased prices by more than 100 percent within a week.
Zimbabwe has implemented a 21-day lockdown as a measure to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Although Industry and Commerce Minister Dr Sekai Nzenza could not be reached to comment yesterday, Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president Mr Denford Mutashu confirmed that retailers have been ordered to freeze the prices.
“Basic commodity price increases are frozen as a sector contribution measure to Zimbabweans who have to date supported our businesses through good and hard times. Retail outlets that will increase prices of basic commodities during this difficult time will be closed indefinitely,” he said.
Mr Mutashu said goods covered under the directive are sugar, cooking oil, salt, mealie-meal, meat, sanitary pads, bottled water, pharmaceutical products, rice, masks, sanitary gloves, sanitisers and washing soaps. Mr Mutashu said at this time of crisis retailers should desist from taking advantage of desperate consumers by hiking their prices.
“It is critical to note that these customers remain kings that deserve unconditional access to basic goods across the country. Moreover, manufacturers and suppliers of basic commodities, essential goods and services should maintain uninterrupted supply onto the market,” he said.
Mr Mutashu said retailers should also play a role in the fight against the spread of Covid-19.
“Covid-19 has proven to be not just a national threat but a global pandemic and it remains critical for business and retailers in particular to have a role to play in this fight. As part of measures being proposed by CRZ, each retail outlet in the spirit of responsibility is encouraged to make a donation towards the Covid-19 facility aimed at supporting the health sector to cope with the emergency,” he said.
The move to freeze prices of basic commodities comes at a time when millers have indicated that they will immediately stop supplying mealie-meal to shops in the Central Business District and concentrate on shops situated in residential areas.
“Millers have been directed by the Command Centre to immediately stop supplying maize meal in CBD forthwith. All deliveries to be made to residential areas only. This applies at nationwide scale, this is a security directive to avoid stampeding of consumers as they queue in the CBD, where the numbers are high during the day,” president of the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe Mr Tafadzwa Musarara said in a statement.
The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries which had earlier projected the manufacturing sector capacity utilisation fall by 9,4 percent this year said the effects of Covid-19 will plunge further down the capacity of industries.
CZI vice-president Mr Joseph Gunda said the manufacturing sector’s capacity utilisation had been projected to fall owing to a myriad of economic challenges being faced by the country but with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic the situation was likely to exacerbate.
“We had projected that capacity utilisation was going to go down from 36,4 percent to 27 percent, that was premised on the economic situation and environment in terms of the foreign currency, water and power shortages. Those were the variables that were affecting us but now that has been compounded by this worldwide recession brought about by the Covid-19, so our situation may actually be worse but let’s see how things go,” he said.
Mr Gunda said the situation was compounded by the fact that most companies rely on imports from South Africa for raw materials. South Africa is also on a 21-day lockdown although Zimbabwe and South Africa have agreed to ensure that cargo between the two countries continue to move freely. Mr Gunda however, commended measures undertaken by various companies towards curbing the spread of the pandemic in the country.
“Most companies have embraced the health directives from His Excellence President Mnangagwa’s announcement that we need to just take care of ourselves in terms of the health and hygiene practices, which include washing of hands, reducing contact and social distancing, among other precautionary measures,” he said.
However, Bulawayo-based economic analyst Mr Morris Mpala said the 21-day lockdown would have a negative impact on the country’s manufacturing sector as it heavily relies from importing raw materials in the neighbouring country.
“It’s not looking good especially those with imports as raw materials will be difficult to get in the short to medium horizon. During a difficult time, manufacturing suffers first. Essentials will be prioritised when it comes to manufacturing while health and medical care will take centre stage,” he said.