Harare, Zimbabwe | AFP | Zimbabweans reacted with outrage Sunday to a sharp rise in fuel prices announced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in a move to improve supplies as the country struggles with its worst gasoline shortages in a decade.
After years of international isolation, Zimbabwe’s economy has been in decline for more than a decade with cash shortages, high unemployment and a recent scarcity of basic staples like bread and cooking oil.
In a televised address late Saturday, Mnangagwa said prices of petrol and diesel would more than double to tackle a shortfall caused by increased demand and “rampant” illegal trading.
Mnangagwa, who took over from longtime leader Robert Mugabe and won a disputed election last July, also announced a package of measures to help state workers after strikes by doctors and teachers over poor pay.
He said from midnight Saturday, petrol prices would rise from $1.24 a litre to $3.31 (2.89 euros) and diesel from $1.36 a litre to $3.11.
But many Zimbabweans criticised the move, worrying a knock-on spike in other costs would worsen an already difficult economic situation and trigger protests and strikes.
“I am not a politician and neither am I an economist but you don’t need a rocket scientist to tell you that we are now headed for the worst following the fuel price madness,” said William Masuku, 32, a car dealer in Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city.
Victor Nyoni, head of a local business body, said the fuel prices would push up the cost of other goods with businesses likely to pass on the higher transport costs to consumers.
– Government ‘against the people’ –
The president’s announcement came after fuel shortages which began in October last year worsened in recent weeks with motorists sometimes spending nights in fuel pump queues that stretch for kilometres.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) said the government had demonstrated a lack of empathy for the already-overburdened poor.
“The government has officially declared its anti-worker, anti-poor and anti-people ideological position,” it said. “Workers’ salaries have been reduced to nothing and our suffering elevated to another level.”
Nelson Chamisa, who heads the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said the situation was “descending into a humanitarian crisis”.
Evan Mawarire, a cleric and activist who led the 2016 anti-government protests that shut down major cities, added: “You have cornered us and you leave us no choice. It’s time to mobilise every person who truly loves Zimbabwe.”
– ‘Piecemeal solutions’ –
“Those in government may not admit it but they know in their hearts that they have failed,” said Edmore Phiri, a tired-looking motorist who had just spent a second night in a petrol queue in Avondale suburb.
“We are not going anywhere with these piecemeal solutions that are not solutions.
“You can’t have a country where people sleep in cars for days for a commodity that should be readily available.”