|Sunday Times Foreign Desk||Published:Jul 08, 2007|
As Zimbabwe faced complete meltdown, state radio summoned the brutal militias to Zanu-PF headquarters so they could provide back-up for police and secret agents.
Mugabe's order to businesses to cut the price of goods by 50% triggered mass stampedes, panic buying and near-riots by Zimbabweans.
Economists and political observers are now warning that fuel, the price of which was cut in half on Friday, will run out by midweek and that there will be major food shortages by Friday.
In his desperate clinging to power, Mugabe threatened businesses with nationalisation if they did not comply with his price cut. More than 200 businessmen, including company directors, were arrested for price violations.
A Harare hardware store owner, who asked not to be identified, told how police forced him to reduce the price of cement from Z1.3-million to Z150000 a bag before buying up all 800 bags , according to Zimbabwesituation.com.
Other stores reported similar incidents.
Yesterday in Harare there was chaos in most shops and fast-food outlets as people scrambled to buy food.
"I have been here since morning trying to buy food for my family. There is nothing in the shops and the children are crying from hunger at home," Kelvin Gara said. "I think we are heading for disaster."
Economists and political analysts are saying that Zimbabwe in economic and political free- fall for seven years has finally reached the end of the road.
John Robertson, an economist, told The Times of London: "This is going to be a very short honeymoon. There will be no fuel to be had anywhere in the country by the middle of next week. That will bring an end to all business activity. A shutdown of the entire country is coming. In a week's time, people are going to be struggling to find food."
Mugabe's former spokesman, Jonathan Moyo, said the Harare regime was now facing the political exit doors. He said Mugabe might be consumed by spontaneous mass protests triggered by the economic implosion or defeated in next year's critical elections.
"By taking this approach, Mugabe is confirming to all and sundry that his regime has come to the end of the road," Moyo said.
"He is now unable to govern without resorting to misplaced revolutionary and political heroics, preposterous propaganda and Gestapo tactics. But this won't work."
Even a prominent political analyst who is part of the Zanu-PF intelligentsia, Dr Ibbo Mandaza, predicted that Mugabe would be forced out of office by September by the economic crisis.
Most people, except the rich who import food, are no longer able to have breakfast because there is no bread, sugar, tea, milk, butter, cereal and other basic foodstuffs to be bought.
Reuters reported that South African-owned Edgars stores, the country's leading clothing retailer, halved its prices yesterday. There were stampedes at Edgars stores after the news was announced.
The price cuts were announced after the prices of many goods tripled within a week.
Zimbabwe's annual inflation rate was last reported to be 4500% in May, but many economists believe the figure is about 10000%. Official statistics are no longer released.
The Zimbabwean government on Friday rushed through a law legalising the price cuts after lawyers challenged its actions.
Addressing Zanu-PF supporters on Friday, Mugabe insisted the policy was not illegal because "people are starving" due to price escalations. He warned that his government would seize factories that stop production and run them.
Mugabe also told meetings of Zanu-PF's central committee on Friday and National Consultative Assembly yesterday that the price cuts were designed to deal with businesses that wanted to topple his regime through economic pressure.
He said price hikes were calculated to ensure he was defeated in next year's elections.
But Zanu-PF is not united on the issue. While hardliners said to be in the majority are in favour of the move and want it extended so that they can nationalise private businesses, others, including Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono, have condemned it as suicidal.
The South African government, which has maintained a policy of quiet diplomacy on Zimbabwe, refused to comment on the deteriorating situation yesterday.
But South Africa's Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad acknowledged on Thursday that South Africa was "concerned that the economic situation is not in the interest of the people of Zimbabwe".
ADDITIONAL NEWS ABOUT ZIM!!