Much of Bulawayo city centre remained closed yesterday by mid –morning as businesses appeared to have chosen to be cautious following the events of earlier in the week where there was widespread looting of shops especially in the western suburbs of Bulawayo and Harare.
Bulawayo’s Fifth Avenue, the markets street was, however, a hive of activity with almost all goods available in the morning though some quickly ran out even though they were being sold at exorbitant prices. Some traders sold mealie-meal for up to $15 for a 10 kg pack, with bread being sold for between $3 and $5 cash.
Hordes of people that continued to flock to the market showed the people’s desperation and that many homes had run out of supplies.
“It is shocking that people can be so brazen and sell mealie-meal and packed meat with supermarket stickers after the looting witnessed in the suburbs. Where are these kombis that are bringing these goods to the market taking them from,” asked one shopper after witnessing the street sales.
Some of the sellers would sell at a point for while before moving to yet another spot as if to avoid detection.
Since meat was scarce in town as the few supplies were quickly snapped up before the suppliers disappeared, cabbage prices rose to $3 a head from an average of $1, with many other people buying mangoes, potatoes and butternut. The lowest price charged for many products at the market was $3 and it was feared it could rise due to the increased demand.
Residents continued to mill around some main supermarkets in town, with some of them appearing to have workers inside moving around the shelves, either tidying up or as some shoppers feared, possibly increasing prices of commodities before re-opening.
Public transporters were still nowhere in sight and many workers probably could not make it to work due to a lack of transport.
The violence that rocked Bulawayo where shops in the city were forced to close on Monday after opening for business as usual in the morning saw the town deserted from mid-morning on Monday.
On Tuesday and Wednesday life returned to the vegetable markets of Bulawayo, the only place that was a hive of activity. Many of the informal traders said they had come into town on foot and indicated that they would knock off early as they were unlikely to get transport back home. A number of stalls were closed showing that the traders were possibly holed up in their homes. What was apparent was that many families were running low on supplies with many of them buying potatoes and mangoes from the market.
After 10am yesterday there appeared to be some glimmer of hope for shoppers as TM Hyper opened for business, followed by other major supermarkets in town. However, security had to be called in to maintain order as a flood of shoppers almost overwhelmed the shops.
Meanwhile, police continued to make arrests of looters after three days of violence and frenetic looting in the western suburbs. By Wednesday afternoon there were reports that more than 600 suspects had been picked up countrywide. In Bulawayo 25 suspected hooligans appeared in court charged with public violence.
The suspects allegedly broke into businesses in Old Magwegwe and New Lobengula, and among them was a 16-year-old juvenile.
Twenty of the suspects were remanded in custody to Friday for bail ruling while the juvenile was referred to a juvenile home.
At least five others appeared before another Bulawayo court and were remanded in custody to January 21. In Gweru reports were that more than 100 people were arrested in connection with the violence and looting, including MDC Alliance organising secretary Amos Chibaya, who is the Member of the House of Assembly for Mkoba. A commuter omnibus was burnt in Mkoba 16 before security moved in to restore order.
In Harare, residents also endured untold suffering during the three-days of a violent “shutdown” called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union.
In the end, what was supposed to be a consumer protest against the increase in fuel prices piled more misery on the ordinary person as seen by people scrambling for food in Harare yesterday.
Calls for the ZCTU shutdown had been ignored on Monday as most workers and school children embarked on their daily routines, triggering a violent political response as youths stormed businesses, looted goods and attacked anyone intending to go to work.
Most roads were barricaded as the violent youths burnt tyres and placed huge rocks on roads in most of the high density suburbs of the country’s major cities.
Thus businesses were aborted on Monday and on Tuesday people, afraid of the violent thugs, stayed indoors while industry also shut down for safety of both the workers and properties while kombis were parked in fear of rioters.
This meant that there was no production of bread, the most sought-after foodstuff in the urban centres and yesterday there was a long queue outside Lobel’s in Mbare as the company resumed production but with limited resources.
People scrambled for products like potatoes and butternut from roadside vendors who doubled prices yesterday to cash in on the desperate consumers.
A 10kg pocket of potatoes cost $23 up from the usual $12 (minimum) and one vendor said he had sold 90 pockets in less than 30 minutes after setting up his “stall” along Lomagundi Road.
Mealies were also selling fast with one cob selling at $2, up from the usual $1.
“I came with 100 pockets and I am left with just 10 and all this happened in about 30 minutes. This is the best day for me since I started this business. The circumstances might be unfortunate, but for me it is an opportunity to make money,” said the vendor.
On the decision to double the price, he said:
“This is a basic issue of supply and demand. I am aware that most of my colleagues were scared to come out and sell which means I am one of a few vendors selling in the open and the demand will be too much, especially considering that shops are closed.
“Most of the customers today have been women who are complaining about non-availability of bread, which is forcing them to buy potatoes as an alternative.
“The other reason is that there is the risk of my goods being looted by those youths, and if I double the price it will cushion me against any loses that might arise from looting. As it is, I have already made a killing and even if they loot what’s left I will not complain, fortune favours the brave.”
Taxi drivers also recorded brisk business, especially at Roadport where people arriving from South Africa were pressured to board as they were being threatened that rioters were frequenting the place and would loot goods.
Our Harare Bureau witnessed people being charged as much as $100 in fares to areas that would normally cost around $30 — even after the recent fuel price increase.