by Angus Shaw in Harare
Zimbabwe braced itself for an increase of at least a 500 per cent in the price of maize meal yesterday after the government appeared to abandon its price freeze.
In 1998 a 25 per cent rise in maize meal - the staple diet for Zimbabweans - sparked food riots and led the government to impose price controls backed by subsidies.
Milling company and food store executives said the price would rise from Z$100 (7p) a kilogram to Z$630.
The state-run Grain Marketing Board, which has a monopoly on grain sales, announced massive increases in the price of cereals on 3 July. The price of maize rose from Z$9,600 a ton to Z$211,756. Similar increases for wheat led to a fourfold increase in the price of a loaf of bread this week.
Official inflation has soared to more than 300 per cent, unemployment is estimated at 70 per cent and a black market in food and fuel, where inflation is 600 per cent, is thriving.
The state-controlled Herald newspaper said the Grain Marketing Board had no alternative to the increases. "It would be impossible to keep the retail prices of maize meal, flour and bread at prices affordable by the majority of ordinary people," it said in an editorial. Past price-fixing of goods led to shortages in shops and intense black market trading in the scarce foods, it added.
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