JUST IN: Zimbabweans warned against fuel price protests

Energy Mutodi and his dancing queens

THE Deputy Minister for Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Energy Mutodi has said that Zimbabweans should brace for a surge in prices after the government hiked fuel prices on Saturday night.

Mutodi also warned Zimbabweans not to go into the streets in protest against the fuel price increases as the government will not hesitate to use force to put down such kind of demonstrations.

Wrote Mutodi: “New fuel prices will stamp out arbitrage in the fuel sector and normalize fuel supply but Zimbabweans must brace for commodity price volatility emanating from the fuel price shock.

“Volatility will be temporary before goods prices normalise.

“Faced with high fuel costs, clever people know what to do and here are some tips: Avoid fuel guzzler, reduce fleet, cancel unnecessary trips and use bicycles where possible to save BIG. Do not protest in the street you can lose a limp in skirmishes.”

Mutodi’s threats dovetail with what President Mnangagwa said Saturday evening.

Announcing the new high fuel prices at State House, President Mnangagwa warned: “Government is aware of attempts by certain elements bent on taking advantage of the current fuel shortages to cause and sponsor unrest and instability in the country.

“Such politically motivated activities will not be tolerated. To curb continued misuse of fuel in the country, Government, through relevant Departments which include its security structures, have started on a comprehensive audit of all fuel draw-downs with a view to establishing points of leakages.”

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. Businesses are likely to pass on the higher transport costs to the consumer.

– 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, said: “You have cornered us and you leave us no choice. It’s time to mobilise every person who truly loves Zimbabwe.”

“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.”

Mnangagwa, who has pledged to revive the moribund economy, blamed the shortfall on increased fuel usage “compounded by rampant illegal currency and fuel trading activities”.

The government claims fuel prices were lower than in other regional countries, saying some foreigners were taking advantage and buying fuel in bulk for resale elsewhere.

Mnangagwa said the new measures were aimed at curbing a burgeoning speculative parallel market in which fuel was being sold at five times the official price.

“It’s going to reduce demand for fuel because it’s now a bit expensive and that will deal with speculative demand if it was there,” said economist Godfrey Mugano.

Mnangagwa also warned the government would deal harshly with those “bent on taking advantage of the current fuel shortages to cause and sponsor unrest and instability in the country”.

Government doctors went on a 40-day strike in early December, demanding salaries in US dollars and improved working conditions, while teachers’ unions called a strike this week for better pay but their calls went largely unheeded.

Although Mnangagwa announced a package of measures “to cushion government workers”, he gave few details.

Despite the price hike, diplomats and tourists would be able to access cheaper fuel at certain pumping stations.

“The intention is to create a constant supply of fuel for diplomats and tourists to manage the country’s image,” said Mugano.

“Those designated fuel stations will be able to restock easily from the sales they make in US dollars.”

Breaking News via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to our website and receive notifications of Breaking News by email.