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shortages bite as teachers strike for more pay
October 03, 2007
Shortages of basic commodities
like bread and maizemeal, brought on by the world's highest inflation
rate prompted Zimbabwean teachers unable to cope with escalating
prices to go on strike this week, demanding a salary hike.
There is virtually no
bread for sale, and the government's Agricultural Extension Services
Department revealed in a recent report that the winter wheat harvest
had only reached 144,870 metric tonnes (mt), against a national
requirement of 400,000mt.
A combination of drought,
lack of irrigation, seeds and other inputs, fuel and spare parts
for machinery, resulted in a poor harvest from the main 2006/07
agricultural season, according to a recent report by the USAID-funded
Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET).
In its Food
Security Outlook, October 2007 to March 2008, FEWS NET said
the harvest would only provide 45 percent of Zimbabwe's cereal needs,
leaving an import requirement of over 610,000mt. The wheat crisis
has forced millers and bakers to close down or downsize their operations.
John Madzimure, manager
of a baking company in the capital, Harare, said dwindling flour
supplies had forced his employer to cease operating in September.
"Most of the time, workers would report for work but spend
the day doing nothing. We started by retrenching but, again, losses
kept on mounting, until it was decided we should close down."
with the strike
to keep up with inflation of around 6,500 percent on salaries that
start from about US$6 a month, went on strike this week to demand
that they be paid at least US$30 a month. According the independent
Council of Zimbabwe, the cost of living for a family of six
is about US$33 a month.
Final exams start next
week, and the striking teachers have drawn the ire of students,
who have been forced to run their own classes. "We feel that
we are being sacrificed," commented a pupil. "Why didn't
the teachers embark on their protest earlier?"
A 12-year-old student,
taking a break from giving a mathematics "lecture", said,
"As a prefect, I mobilised my classmates so that we could do
what you see us doing right now [learning]." He said his parents
had tried to dissuade him attending school because the teachers
were on strike, but he had managed to convince them that "we
are so close [to writing exams], and life should not stop because
the teachers are away".
Hopeful consumers queue
for bread every morning, "but in the last seven days, the delivery
has not been coming", said Jane Mutema, a Harare resident.
She said rumours that bread would be delivered often tended to create
stampedes, and a pregnant woman had been trampled on one occasion.
While basic goods can
still be found on the parallel market at substantially higher cost,
the FEWS NET report pointed out that these informal marketplaces
are constantly disrupted by more frequent police raids. "Not
only is the food crisis in urban areas one of access, it has now
become an availability crisis as well." The exchange rate is
currently Z$500,000 to US$1 on the parallel market.
Unlike Harare, which
is close to surplus supply areas, the urban populations of Bulawayo,
Hwange and Tsholotsho, in Matabeleland North Province, and Kariba
in Mashonaland West Province have been worst affected. Open market
maize prices in these cities rose dramatically between June and
August 2007, escalating by between 20 and 33 times, compared to
a national average increase of just eight percent, according to
Shortages of basic commodities
are having the biggest impact on the poor, whose limited buying
power forces them to make frequent purchases of smaller amounts
of food and prevents them from buying in bulk when commodities become
available, said FEWS NET.
FEWS NET expects about
4.1 million in urban and rural areas to be in need of food assistance
between October 2007 and March 2008. The country's eight provinces
are all expected to face a cereal deficit this year, with the traditionally
grain-deficit Matabeleland and Masvingo - both hard hit by drought
- being worst affected.
The government has managed
to import 29 percent of its maize order from Malawi by August 2007,
while humanitarian organisations have procured six percent of their
order of 352,000mt of cereals. "With these food delivery mechanisms
the country still faces a cereal gap of 111,135mt," which the
FEWS NET report said was likely to filled, "especially since
there are elections in early 2008."
The agriculture department
and farmers have blamed constant power cuts, which affected irrigation,
for the low wheat yields. Farmers complained that erratic power
supplies had also damaged their electrical equipment.
"As new farmers,
most of us are not insured ... besides, we had borrowed money from
the banks to finance our activities, but now that our yields were
poor, we are at a loss as to how we are going to repay the loans,"
said Tamutsa Chinhundu, who farms in Mazowe, about 40km northeast
Other items have also
been affected by the economic recession. Zimbabwe was once the second-largest
tobacco exporter in the world after Brazil, but cigarettes have
now disappeared from shops, and cost at least 10 times the government's
fixed price on the thriving black market, the official daily newspaper,
The Herald, reported this week.
Newspapers were also
in short supply on Sunday, said The Herald, whose parent company
has cut its print run as a result of paper shortages, while advertising
revenue has shrunk because consumer goods are no longer available
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