“Sharp decline in demand for refrigerators. Bus operators drop their fares. Slump in prices of electrical appliances. Prices of second hand cars plummet.” These are some of the headlines that have been gracing our daily newspapers. Looking at them one would believe there is a culture of consumer resistance in Zimbabwe. But this is far from the truth. There is none.
Experts argue that there is a vast difference between consumer resistance and failing to afford. Consumer resistance is mainly practised by organised consumers. Stopping buying a commodity because one can no longer afford it is not consumer resistance because it is the ordinary consumer who loses. Those who can afford will still buy the goods and in some cases where shortages are frequent they can actually take advantage and hoard.
Analysts also contend that the general populace should not suffer because of consumer resistance as it is the manufacturer or businessman that should lose and bow down to consumer demands when he or she loses business. If these sentiments are true then Zimbabweans have a long way to go to prove they are really aware of their consumer rights.
The Consumer Council itself, probably because it heavily relies on government funding, has done very little to develop this culture of consumer resistance. All they have done so far is to cry foul after price increases and their cries are not really listened to.
The analysts say the only consumer resistance they can think of that took place recently was the refusal by residents of Mutate to pay full licence fees to the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation because of the poor service they were getting. This, they said, was a typical show of consumer power because the ZBC was forced to send its top management to the eastern town to negotiate with them.
While there have been significant in-roads into transport industry where bus operators had to reduce their faces, this was not consumer resistance, the analysts argue, because people just stopped travelling. So, in a sense, it was the people who lost.