Zimbabweans sleeping in food and petrol queues as worst economic crisis in a decade deepens

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By Agencies

Zimbabweans are sleeping in petrol queues and spending hours lining up for basic food, as the country suffers its worst economic crisis in a decade.

Nearly a year after the downfall of dictator Robert Mugabe, the country is spiralling into exactly the kind of turmoil that new President Emmerson Mnangagwa pledged to avoid.

At a supermarket in a poor community on the outskirts of Harare, hundreds of people line up in the sun.

The shop is shut and a handful of police wearing helmets and carrying truncheons prevent people from swarming the door.

Women carry small babies on their backs in the hot afternoon sun.

No-one even knows if the shop will open today, or if it has the food they want, but they wait anyway.

There’s no other option.

They are the victims of a cash crisis, which has seen the price of goods like bread, sugar and petrol skyrocket as imports of basic commodities grind to a halt.

Key points

  • Cash crisis sends prices of basic goods skyrocketing
  • Shop owners demand payments in US dollars
  • A cholera epidemic recently rocked the country, killing more than 50 people

Some shop owners are demanding payment in US dollars only because they don’t want to accept local cash that is devaluing by the day.

The catalyst for this latest economic disaster was the Government’s decision to introduce a 2 per cent tax on electronic transactions as a revenue-raising measure.

It’s been compounded by a shortage of foreign currency.

But the country’s economic woes run much deeper than that.

The official unemployment rate in Zimbabwe is 90 per cent.

The country has defaulted on debts in recent decades, meaning international credit and investment is hard to attract.


Zimbabwe is also still subject to international sanctions.

When security forces shot dead several protesters after the July election result was announced, any chance of those sanctions being lifted were dealt a severe blow.

This crisis has exposed the lack of confidence in the country’s economic future — and its ordinary people who are suffering.

“The crisis we have is not just a crisis of cash but a crisis of confidence, a crisis of trust,” Opposition Leader Nelson Chamisa says.

“It’s a crisis of legitimacy, a deficit of leadership and a deficit of good governance.”

Chamisa narrowly lost the July election and continues to challenge its legitimacy.

He’s calling for cross-party dialogue on the economic crisis.

On the streets of Harare, Opposition supporters are suffering alongside those who voted for the incumbent Zanu-PF Party.

At a petrol queue stretching several kilometres, a man explains how he bought two litres of fuel for $15 on the black market just so he could drive his car from one empty service station to another one.


There he has joined the back of the queue and expects to wait all night.

“It’s a kilometre to reach the service station so it’s a long time,” he says.

Another man who drove across town in the hunt for petrol is now stuck in the same queue.

“I’m not able to go home now because I haven’t got sufficient fuel,” he says.

“Have you seen where the front of the queue is? Do you think by the time I get there I’ll be able to get the fuel? I doubt it very much.”

Zimbabwe adopted the US dollar as its currency in 2009, after the local currency was scrapped due to hyperinflation that made it virtually worthless.

Shortages of US currency prompted the government to introduce a new local currency, bond notes referred to as “zollars”.

The value of the zollar was pegged to the US dollar, but recent weeks have seen the value of the zollar plummet, despite the Government publicly insisting that the two remain on par.


Mnangagwa has called for international aid to ease the crisis.

But Chamisa disagrees with that approach.

“It’s counterproductive to talk about international aid without ‘chlorinating’ the process; if you don’t wash the body it doesn’t matter what fragrance you apply,” he says.

“International aid will simply help the few in government because of corruption.”


A few days ago, Zimbabwe’s reserve bank suspended four senior officials accused of fuelling the black market trade of scarce US dollars, the very problem that is exacerbating the devaluing of local currency.

As if the economic woes weren’t enough, a cholera epidemic has broken out on the outskirts of the capital Harare.

At least 52 people have died and hundred more have been hospitalised.

Burst sewer pipes and a lack of access to clean water have been blamed for the outbreak, which is concentrated in poorer communities.


But in a rare glimmer of hope, a unified response by the Government and the World Health Organisation saw a mass vaccination campaign swiftly implemented.

It’s the first time there’s been a vaccination program against cholera in Zimbabwe.

“It will buy us time until local authorities and the central Government can build the infrastructure that is desperately, desperately needed,” says Dr Portia Manangazira, the Zimbabwean Government’s chief doctor in charge of disease control.

Despite rumours circulating that the oral vaccine would reduce male virility, impromptu vaccination clinics set up outside shops are overrun with thousands of people availing themselves of the free dose, and the spread of the disease appears to have been stalled.