The only thing Zimbabweans can budget for when going shopping is shock


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When going shopping, the only thing Isaiah Macheku can budget for is shock.

Hyperinflation is changing prices so quickly in Zimbabwe that what you see displayed on a supermarket shelf might change by the time you reach the checkout.

“It is a nightmare,” Macheku said. “I can’t plan.”

Before a coup unseated the late President Robert Mugabe in late 2017, Macheku could afford all his family’s basics on his salary, which equals about $24. Now the same amount can hardly buy 4 kilogrammes (8.8 pounds) of beef.

He ended up buying chicken skin for his family’s supper. “I cannot afford the actual chicken,” he said. “It is the closest his family gets to eating meat.”

Zimbabwe now has the world’s second highest inflation after Venezuela, according to International Monetary Fund figures. The southern African nation went through this a decade ago but says there is no getting used to it, and coping has become both creative and desperate.

This time Zimbabwe’s economy has been on a downward spiral for more than a year as hopes fade that Mugabe’s successor and former deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, will deliver on his promises of prosperity.

“Anyone who thinks a solution is in sight must be very brave,” said economist John Robertson in the capital, Harare.

“Government officials don’t want to admit the real causes and don’t want to fix the real problems. People should brace for worse.” He said the real causes include the government spending beyond its means.”

To shop, money alone is no longer enough. Calculators, mobile phones and notebooks have become necessary tools. In one sparsely attended groceries wholesaler, there were more people taking pictures of price stickers than those picking items from shelves.

“I sent the pictures to my husband. We have to decide fast before the prices go up again,” said one shopper, Marianne Hove. “He is in another supermarket sending me pictures of the prices there. We compare and decide which items to buy and from where.”

Others did quick calculations and called home to confirm items to buy.

In other shops, prices are only available at the checkout – and even then the cashier might stop a customer mid-payment to change prices.

Retailers said they would go out of business if they don’t adjust prices frequently.

“It is becoming increasingly impossible to appropriately price goods. The replacement value has been our Achilles heel,” said Denford Mutashu, president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers.

The situation is “synonymous with hyperinflation” even though the government statistics office has stopped publishing annual inflation data, Mutashu said.

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The Insider

The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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