by Tichaona Chifamba
HARARE, June 10 (Xinhua) -- Zimbabwean workers have been hit hard by high accommodation costs as landlords now demand rentals in foreign currency to cushion themselves from the RTGS dollar which is free falling against the U.S dollar.
This comes at a time many workers - including civil servants - are complaining that their RTGS dollar salaries have been eroded by high inflation as the cost of basic commodities continues to rise every month.
The country's annual rate of inflation for the month of April 2019 rose further to 75.86 percent, up from 66.80 percent in March, while month on month inflation also climbed to 5.52 percent, gaining 1.14 percentage points on the March rate, according to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency.
Prices of basic commodities such as maize meal, milk, beef and washing powder have risen by about 100 percent between April and June.
A manager with a retail chain in the resort town in Victoria Falls told Xinhua that apart from the high cost of living, their workers were also facing accommodation problems in the town.
"Even our workers are feeling the pinch. We have advised the human resources department about the dire situation," he said.
There were reports at the weekend that police officers in the town were relocating to the local police station because they could no longer afford the rentals being charged.
Police spokesperson Paul Nyathi would not comment to Xinhua on the issue, only saying that a statement issued by the government on Sunday was sufficient.
"I think the government has responded to that appropriately. There's a statement which was posted by the Ministry of Information. That statement is very relevant," he said.
The Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services on Sunday night dismissed the reports as false.
"Government has been made aware of false news circulating regarding the tent pitched in Victoria Falls by the @PoliceZimbabwe. The tent has been pitched purely for operational reasons which have nothing to do with the reasons given by the online publication. Fake news affects our country," the ministry said in a tweet.
However, a Victoria Falls resident confirmed that police officers were indeed moving into the police camp because they could no longer afford the high foreign currency denominated rentals.
"What we have discovered is that they have crammed all their belongings into single rooms and subdivided their rooms using curtains to accommodate the officers coming from locations. The tent has no people though we are reliably informed they have been promised more tents should more officers fail to pay rentals. Every other building has been converted into accommodation rooms including where they used to do finger prints," he said.
Another contributor to Twitter running by the name Nox also said police officers and other government employees in the town were suffering because of the high rentals.
"But the truth of the matter is that government employees are suffering in Vic falls. Landlords require rent in USD. Imagine a police officer who earns less than 500 RTGS dollars," Nox said.
In Harare, rental for one room is now pegged at about 70 U.S. dollars in the low and medium density suburbs, while a cottage costs around 120 U.S. dollars, inclusive of water and electricity charges.
Since banks do not issue foreign currency to individuals, tenants source the required amounts from the black market where the rates are currently between 7.50 RTGS dollars and 8 RTGS dollars against 1 U.S. dollar.
Teachers recently petitioned Parliament to have the government pay them decent salaries that can match the high cost of living.
The Zimbabwe Teachers Association and the Progressive Teachers Union (PTUZ) want the government to pay a cushioning allowance in United States dollars to every teacher over and above the RTGS salaries which the government has promised to review.
PTUZ secretary-general Raymond Majongwe said a teacher's salary of 450 RTGS can only buy 98 liters of water, or alternatively is equivalent to just eight pockets of potatoes.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Friday that the government would in the course of time re-introduce a local currency and abolish the use of foreign currency to buy from local shops "to stem uncontrolled price increases".
He added that current austerity measures imposed on the populace were meant to improve the economy in the long run.
The International Monetary Fund has projected the country's economic growth to contract 2.1 percent in 2019.
Some companies are now reportedly paying their workers' salaries every two weeks to cushion them from the harsh environment, while others are also chipping in with groceries.