Zimbabwe authorities ordered businesses on Thursday to stop selling basic goods in bulk to avert shortages after an official price freeze triggered a frenzied buying spree that has emptied most shop shelves.
President Robert Mugabe's government last week ordered businesses to roll back prices to June 18 levels after wild increases of up to 300 percent within a week following the plunge of the local currency on a thriving black market.
Spiraling prices have pushed inflation above 4,500 percent, the highest in the world, underscoring an eight-year economic recession that has ravaged urban workers the most and sparked foreign currency, fuel and food shortages.
Wholesalers and retailers should desist from allowing bulk buying of basic commodities, Obert Mpofu, the Minister of Industry and International Trade, told the official Herald newspaper on Thursday.
Mugabe denies charges he has presided over the country's worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1980 and instead says the West has sabotaged the economy to punish him for seizing white-owned commercial farms for blacks.
Over the past week shoppers have been buying sugar, cooking oil, flour, salt and maize-meal in bulk, leaving shelves empty while manufacturers have stopped producing. They say the price freeze is not viable given the price of other goods and raw materials continue to skyrocket.
Police had to be called in at a supermarket in central Harare early on Thursday to control a huge crowd that had jammed the shop after word quickly got round that sugar was available.
We heard there is sugar here that is why there is all this commotion, Rosemary Marawa said as she tussled in a long queue which also included uniformed police and soldiers.
Some people have formed teams to trawl shops in the capital and buy whatever basic goods they can in bulk.
Mugabe has accused businesses of being drafted in a conspiracy by his Western foes to topple him from power by increasing prices without justification. He warned his government could seize and nationalize the companies.
More than 200 business people -- including a ruling party senator -- have been arrested for defying the price freeze, which economic analysts say will only entrench the black market.
Police also said they had unearthed huge quantities of sugar, soap and cooking oil -- all in short supply -- at a site in Harare and suspect the goods were being hoarded to create artificial shortages in the market.
The public is urged not to be involved in panic buying of commodities whose prices have been reduced as sustainable continuous supplies will be provided, Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told the Herald.