ZCTU, activists call for Zimbabwe shutdown over fuel price hike

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By Agencies

ZIMBABWE’S largest labour-union confederation called for a national strike starting at midnight after the government more than doubled fuel prices to among the highest in the world.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), which represents most labour unions in the country, issued the call Sunday, a day after the government boosted prices of petrol to $3.11 a litre from $1.34 and diesel to $3.21 a litre from $1.49.

The hike caps a week in a deepening currency crisis, with the head of the main industry body saying many companies will close this month due to a currency shortage.

“The ZCTU general council resolved to call for a nationwide stay-away with effect from midnight today (Sunday) following the insensitive and provocative increase of the fuel price by the president of Zimbabwe,” the confederation, which represents people ranging from journalists to rail workers, said in a Twitter posting.

The national strike comes as a foreign-exchange shortage has sparked scarcities of everything from fuel to bread, caused doctors to stay away from work and companies to cut or cease production because they can’t import raw materials.

The roots of the crisis lie in a 2009 decision to abolish the Zimbabwe dollar in favour of the use of other currencies, primarily the U.S. dollar.

Electronic Money

Zimbabwe doesn’t have enough foreign exchange to fund imports and pay workers, many of whom are refusing to accept salaries in electronic money or so-called bond notes because they trade at a discount to hard currency on the black market.

“Most of the companies do not have raw materials that go beyond January as most of our suppliers cut us out of stock, and it is only payment in foreign exchange that will unlock supply lines,” said Sifelani Jabangwe, the president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries.

Already the country’s biggest company by market value, brewer Delta Corp. has said it would only accept payment in foreign currency before the central bank promised to find it sufficient foreign exchange. Fast-food company Simbisa Brands Ltd. said last month it would give customers a discount if they paid in hard currency.

Burning House

Industries in Zimbabwe have been denied access to foreign currency since October and companies have been forced to source dollars illegally on the black market, the CZI said in a letter to government.

The allocation of foreign exchange isn’t transparent and the government needs to permit interbank trading of foreign exchange, the confederation said.

“Industry is facing imminent collapse,” the CZI said. “The house is burning.”

The government plans to reintroduce its own currency within 12 months, the state-controlled Herald newspaper said yesterday, citing Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube. The CZI said the country need its own currency and wants a clear time frame as to when this will happen.

While the crisis deepens, President Emmerson Mnangagwa is due to be away for two weeks with a trip spanning Azerbaijan to the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

“I think if nothing happens now after this ridiculous fuel price hike we Zimbabweans deserve what we get,” said Hamukwandi Mungofa, a 54-year-old self-employed mechanic in Harare, the capital. “I am for a national shutdown.”