HARARE – Hard-pressed Zimbabweans have once again been hit by a wave of massive price increases.
According to a snap survey by this paper, prices of basic commodities — rice, chicken and beef, among many other needs — have gone haywire, rising by between two and 125 percent within a month.
That is abnormal.
While this certainly dampens the festive mood of many, who had regained hope following the change of the country’s leadership after the demise of long-ruling 93-year-old former president Robert Mugabe, it also re-ignites the long standing debate of profiteering and moral obligation.
In simple terms, moral obligation is the responsibility arising from considerations of what is right or wrong.
And many Zimbabwean businesses have long been accused of abdicating that responsibility.
Since the 2006-8 economic crisis, which saw Zimbabwe’s inflation reaching unprecedented levels of a million-plus percent, the generality of the people have been convinced that businesses are out there to take advantage of any crisis, in as much as it may create challenges.
Many feel businesses exaggerate the crisis only to satisfy their profit motive.
In short, the businesses are accused of profiteering and fleecing the consumer – refusing to share the burden of increased costs.
And Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president Denford Mutashu adds an interesting remark to the profiteering debate.
He acknowledged that while the price hikes are as a result of the prevailing foreign currency shortages, indiscipline had also creeped in.
“…our call is that players should desist from price increases based on profiteering,” he said, adding that “labour has not gone up, but the cost of production”.
Basically, Mutashu is somehow admitting that there are “rogue” retailers, who, like I said earlier, would want to capitalise on the foreign currency crisis that coincides with the festive season when demand for basic commodities is high.
Profiteering or not, the truth is most, if not all, Zimbabwean businesses are going through a rough time — just like everybody else.
Due to the long prevailing foreign currency shortages, which monetary authorities have sadly failed to curb, despite introducing bond notes — a currency surrogate and purportedly valued at par with the US dollar, the desperate businesses have turned to the illegal foreign currency market.
And that has not been a walk in the park for them.
They are charged punitively steep margins to get the scarce foreign currency.
The crisis has also been worsened by the shortage of the bond notes themselves, coupled with the low aggregate demand and the subdued Zimbabwean economy.
It really is a tough going.
But that does not warrant rogue and irresponsible behaviour. No.
What is wrong remains wrong, no matter the situation.
And in this new Zimbabwe, which we all yearn to take back the beacon of Africa status, we must all — business, politicians and the people — know that we have a moral obligation.
While the businesses and the people are not legally bound to fulfil this, we ought to realise that it is, in fact, a major factor in rebuilding our broken country.
One of the reasons why Zimbabwe had sunk this deep is lack of exercising moral obligation — the sense of right and wrong.
Without the sense of right and wrong, there is selfishness, which leads to lack of accountability and plunder.
Focus shifts from oneness to self-preservation, which had become the case.
To achieve the Zimbabwe we yearn for, we need to pull in one direction and share the same vision as a nation, despite our political differences.
And crucially, moral obligation is not only for businesses.
The leadership and Zimbabweans at large are bound too.