By Pauline Hurungudo
Long suffering Zimbabweans are once again facing a bleak Christmas and New Year season — with the majority of the country’s citizens jobless, penniless, hopeless and unable to afford even the most basic of goods to enjoy a modicum of festive cheer.
Apart from having to forget about the Fat Man in the red jumpsuit, Father Christmas, and forgoing goodies that have traditionally been associated with the festive season, most families won’t even have bread following the recent warning by the National Bakers Association of Zimbabwe (NBAZ) that flour stocks in the country are critically low.
This prompted a dejected schoolteacher to tell the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that “the Grinch has now stolen Christmas for good” blaming the government for its poor stewardship of the country and the economy since the nation’s independence in April 1980.
“Our children will never understand the true spirit of the festive season, and how can they.
“Their parents have no jobs and no money. Nothing! It’s only those few at the top who are eating,” the Harare educator said ruefully.
To compound the problem, many shops around the country are battling to get their deliveries of goods due to the worsening fuel crisis, which has also thrown into chaos people’s travelling plans for the festive season.
Zimbabwe has remained in the grip of a ginormous economic crisis despite the country’s holding of relatively peaceful national elections on July 30 which, it had been hoped, would bury many of the problems that were encountered during the ruinous rule of ousted former president Robert Mugabe.
But it hasn’t proven to be, with the common refrains among ordinary Zimbabweans being “suffer continue” (the suffering continues) and “zvaka-presser” (things are hard and our pain endures).
This has seen President Emmerson Mnangagwa and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa coming under growing pressure to set aside their political differences and work together in a bid to try and turn the country’s worsening economic situation around.
“This year is probably going to be one of the worst Christmases that Zimbabwe has endured, as the festive season has turned into a nightmare on the basis of price increases and the shortages of basic commodities.
“The key components of the festive season are access to food and transport to visit family and resorts, and none of these things are within reach of citizens.
“This again is a stolen festive season which reflects the miserable state of our socio-economic circumstances,” Harare-based political analyst and media consultant, Rashwheat Mukundu, told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday.
On her part, Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) executive director, Rosemary Siyachitema, blamed the high prices of basic goods obtaining in the country for souring the festive season.
“Prices have gone up compared to last year December … and all products in the food basket have increased in terms of prices.
“When basic commodities go up, especially when the pockets of families have not increased, it calls for concern for what kind of Christmas the families are going to have.
“Indeed it is not a plentiful Christmas like what we are used to, and it is going to be difficult as families have already started to make future budgets for increased
prices of school uniforms and rent, among other expenses,” Siyachitema said.
She also said the cost of living in the country, which is measured by looking at the minimum monthly needs for a family of six had increased from $666,93 in October this year to $697,76 by the end of last month.
In the meantime, a survey by the Daily News on Sunday shows that many retailers and producers have sharply hiked their prices ahead of Christmas. This includes prices of pork products, mealie-meal, beef, eggs, rice and chicken.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president, Denford Mutashu, attributed the price “madness” to the prevailing tough economic conditions in the country.
“There is need to focus on addressing the issue from a value chain perspective, in order to balance viability and productivity.
“Retailers and wholesalers are price takers and the moment our suppliers increase their prices, we simply pass this on to the consumer even though margins may remain the same,” Mutashu said.
Apart from the high prices in supermarkets, some of the basic consumer goods such as cooking oil and bread are still in short supply, as manufacturers struggle to meet market demand due to myriad problems, including foreign currency and raw material shortages.
“There is low agriculture output of soya beans and this year the country has produced 60 000 tonnes, which is a fraction of the yearly requirement of 400 000.
“This has caused us to look to the region for supplies, but again shortages of foreign currency have reduced the imports,” Oil Expressers Association of Zimbabwe president, Busisa Moyo, said.
Last Thursday, NBAZ president Ngoni Mazango said bread supply could not be guaranteed this Christmas as the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) had not supplied bakers with foreign currency to pay off legacy debts.
“Bakers are not getting enough flour and so I cannot guarantee that we will have enough bread for Christmas.
“We are not getting enough foreign currency and the legacy debt has not yet been paid. So, suppliers have also cut off supplies until it is paid.
“We have engaged RBZ before and they have all the information, but with the situation, I think there is need to re-engage,” Mazango said.
Other political analysts said it was unfortunate that the Esigodini Zanu PF conference was not likely to come up with any “tangible resolutions” that would mitigate the country’s economic crisis.
“Christmas cheer will be in even shorter supply this year for obvious reasons.
“The prospects for a meaningful and sustained broad-based recovery also look dire.
“What we know thus far (on the resolutions proposed by Zanu PF at its conference) is sadly underwhelming … endorsement of ED’s 2023 candidature and the call to raise the minimum age for presidential candidates to 52, et cetera.
“These issues bear limited relevance to the ordinary man or woman in the street …
“These resolutions are also counter-intuitive to the fundamental undertaking that Zimbabwe’s second republic would constitute a break from the past,” Piers Pigou, a senior consultant with the International Crisis Group, said. Daily News.