(p. A1) HARARE, Zimbabwe, April 25 — How bad is inflation in Zimbabwe? Well, consider this: at a supermarket near the center of this tatterdemalion capital, toilet paper costs $417.
No, not per roll. Four hundred seventeen Zimbabwean dollars is the value of a single two-ply sheet. A roll costs $145,750 — in American currency, about 69 cents.
The price of toilet paper, like everything else here, soars almost daily, spawning jokes about an impending better use for Zimbabwe’s $500 bill, now the smallest in circulation.
But what is happening is no laughing matter. For untold numbers of Zimbabweans, toilet paper — and bread, margarine, meat, even the once ubiquitous morning cup of tea — have become unimaginable luxuries. All are casualties of the hyperinflation that is roaring toward 1,000 percent a year, a rate usually seen only in war zones.
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(p. A11) Those with spare cash put it not in banks, which pay a paltry 4 to 10 percent annual interest on savings, but in gilt-edged investments like bags of corn meal and sugar, guaranteed not to lose their value.
”There’s a surrealism here that’s hard to get across to people,” Mike Davies, the chairman of a civic-watchdog group called the Combined Harare Residents Association, said in an interview. ”If you need something and have cash, you buy it. If you have cash you spend it today, because tomorrow it’s going to be worth 5 percent less.
”Normal horizons don’t exist here. People live hand to mouth.”
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. . . , Mr. Mugabe’s government has printed trillions of new Zimbabwean dollars to keep ministries functioning and to shield the salaries of key supporters — and potential enemies — against further erosion. Supplemental spending proposed early in April would increase the 2006 spending limits approved last November by fully 40 percent, and more such emergency spending measures are all but certain before the year ends.
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Hyperinflation is a cradle-to-grave experience here. The government recently announced that the price of childbirth, now $7 million, would rise 463 percent by October. Funeral costs are to double over the same period.
In rural areas, said one official of a foreign-based charity who declined to be named, fearing consequences from the government, even the barest funeral costs at least $6 million, or about $28.50 — well beyond most families’ means. The dead are buried in open fields at night, she said. Recently, she watched one family dismantle their home’s cupboard to construct a makeshift coffin.
”I’ll never forget that,” she said. ”The incredible sadness of it all.”
Critics say that Zimbabwe’s rulers are oblivious to such suffering — last year, Mr. Mugabe completed his own 25-bedroom mansion in a gated suburb north of town, close by the mansions of top ministers and military allies.
For the full story, see:
MICHAEL WINES. "Zimbabwe’s Prices Rise 900%, Turning Staples Into Luxuries." The New York Times (Tues., May 2, 2006): A1 & A11.