Zimbabwe: Roller Meal Shortages Persist

22 January 2020

Subsidised mealie-meal supplies have remained erratic across the country, with major supermarkets running out of the commodity, forcing most consumers to access it on the black market.

The shortages have also turned some people into "professional queuers" as they hop from one supermarket to the other anticipating deliveries, either for own consumption or for the black market.

The re-introduction of subsidised mealie-meal by Government brought relief to most people as the commodity is pegged at $50, while it is selling for up to $100 on the black market.

But while the decision by Government was noble, citizens are battling to access the product as it is in short supply.

Whenever deliveries are made, consumers -- especially those selling on the black market -- stampede to get the product.

Some retailers are accused of releasing small quantities to the public, while diverting it to the black market.

A survey by The Herald at most supermarkets across the country showed that major retailers did not have the subsidised mealie-meal in stock.

In Bulawayo, Provincial Affairs Minister Judith Ncube had to intervene yesterday and stopped Galaxy Cash and Carry Supermarket from selling the subsidised roller meal on condition that a customer bought groceries worth $150.

There was an uproar from customers at the supermarket located along Fort Street between 7th and 8th Avenues who complained that they only had money to buy mealie-meal.

Minister Ncube said she visited the supermarket and convinced the owner to sell the mealie-meal unconditionally.

She condemned the abuse of the subsidised mealie-meal, saying it was a controlled commodity meant to benefit ordinary citizens.

"I visited the supermarket and spoke to a man who seemed to be the owner. He said he placed the condition as a way of controlling the long queue, but from my observation the queue was short compared to what we normally witness.

"I do not know what their motive was. We managed to reason with the owner and we were able to rectify the problem," she said.

Minister Ncube said she will engage the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe to look into the situation because it was unfair for retailers to demand that consumers buy some goods as a precondition.

She urged consumers to resist bad practices and condemned businesses that seek to make mega profits out of people's misery.

Mr Shelton Matanga, who was among those on the queue, said people had been waiting for hours to buy mealie meal.

"We arrived here at around 7am after realising that there was a delivery of the subsidised roller meal. We are already struggling and we do not have the extra $150 they are demanding," he said.

Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) chairperson Mr Tafadzwa Musarara said shortages were a result of the non-availability of maize.

Grain Marketing Board general manager Mr Rockie Mutenha asked for questions to be put in writing through the public relations department.

Industry and Commerce Minister Sekai Nzenza was not reachable.

Mr Musarara said: "It is purely an issue of maize availability and the shortage has nothing to do with the subsidy, which we have resolved.

"The issue of availability stemmed from the fact that GMB was the primary source.

"However, Government allowed millers to import maize starting December 2019 and we have made efforts to import the maize. We signed up for 50 000 tonnes of imported maize per month from South Africa. Initially the maize imports will come from South Africa and later on from Brazil.

"As such, the subsidy for roller meal will cover both maize from local suppliers and imported grain. The maize will start arriving in the country as early as next week and that should improve the situation."

GMAZ spokesperson Mr Garikai Chaunza, said: "We have been meeting members of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers in Bulawayo today (yesterday) to try and find a lasting solution on the channelling of the subsidised mealie-meal to the black market.

"We resolved that supplies will be made to reputable retailers so that adequate monitoring is done. This is meant to address the issue of having mealie-meal being diverted to the parallel market.

"We are expecting the first consignment this weekend and tenders will be offered to transporters to speed up the transportation process.

"We will be working closely with the police to ensure that the grain reaches its intended destination.

"At least 110 000 tonnes are needed to satisfy the market per month."

In Harare, some retailers, especially OK Zimbabwe, had the product from the weekend up to yesterday.

A consumer, Mr Raymond Muza said since Sunday, he had been trying to buy mealie-meal from Westgate Shopping Mall, but there were no supplies.

"I decided to come to the Central Business District, but there is no single shop selling it," he said.

He ended up buying a bucket of maize at Mbare Musika for $110.

Other consumers said they had been getting the product on rare occasions.

In Bindura, there were no supplies, with the last deliveries having been witnessed at OK Supermarket last weekend.

Vendors are selling a 10kg bag of mealie-meal for $70 cash at Chipadze and Chiwaridzo shopping centres.

In Masvingo, all major retailers had no stocks.

A few shops in the city that had supplies were selling a 10kg bag for $65.

Some unscrupulous "professional buyers" are reported to be buying the subsidised mealie-meal for resale at the main Chitima Market for prices ranging between $65 and $70.

In Beitbridge, most retail shops have imported brands from South Africa.

On average, a 12,5kg is being sold for R50 in South Africa and R60 in Zimbabwe.

Local brands are being sold at around $110 per 10kg bag.

In the Midlands Province, residents are relying on imported brands, with retailers and wholesalers saying they last received mealie-meal deliveries about two weeks ago.

Gain Cash and Carry Gweru branch was the last to receive mealie-meal, but was forcing consumers to buy groceries of $1 000 and above to get the subsidised mealie-meal.

In Mutare, there is serious shortage of the subsidised mealie-meal as all major supermarkets did not have supplies.

OK Supermarket got supplies on Monday and they ran out, while Pick n Pay got a delivery yesterday.

"We only received 200 bags of 10kg maize meal and these were snapped up by customers the moment we put them on our shelves," said a Pick and Pay employee.

Other major shops like Spar are still to receive supplies this week.

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