Harare: Zimbabweans reacted with outrage on Sunday to a sharp rise in the price of fuel 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 in international isolation, Zimbabwe's economy has been in decline for more than a decade, with cash shortages, high unemployment and recently a scarcity of basic staples like bread and cooking oil.
In a televised address on Saturday, Mnangagwa said prices of petrol and diesel would more than double to tackle a shortfall caused by increased demand and "rampant" illegal trading.
The main labour alliance Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) said the government had demonstrated a lack of empathy for the already overburdened poor by introducing the more than 100 per cent hike.
“Workers' government has officially declared its anti-worker, anti-poor and anti-people ideological position by increasing fuel prices. Workers’ salaries have been reduced to nothing and our suffering elevated to another level,” it said.
Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Nelson Chamisa said: “We have a national crisis which is descending into a humanitarian crisis.
“We believe this crisis requires all hands on the deck. We will lead and stand ready to play a key role in finding a lasting solution.”
Evan Mawarire, a cleric and activist who led anti-government protests in 2016 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.”
Looking tired after spending his second night in a petrol queue in Avondale suburb, motorist Edmore Phiri said: “We are not going anywhere with these piecemeal solutions that are not solutions. Those in government may not admit it but they know in their hearts that they have failed.
“You can’t have a country where people sleep in cars for days for a commodity that should be readily available.”
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 that from midnight on Saturday petrol prices would rise from US$1.24 a litre to $3.31 (2.89 euros) and diesel from $1.36 a litre to $3.11.
"Following the persistent shortfall in the fuel market attributable to increased fuel usage in the economy, and compounded by rampant illegal currency and fuel trading activities, government has today decided on the following corrective measures," he said.
The government says the prices were lower than in other countries in the region and that some foreigners were taking advantage, buying fuel in bulk in Zimbabwe for resale elsewhere.
The announcement came after fuel shortages which began in October last year worsened in recent weeks with motorists sometimes spending nights in queues to fuel pumps stretching for kilometres.
He said the government has introduced new measures to curb a burgeoning parallel market in which fuel was being sold at five times the official price.
The president warned that the government would deal harshly with “elements 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 beginning 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.
Mnangagwa announced "a package of measures to cushion government workers."
Mnangagwa, who took over from long-time ruler Robert Mugabe, has pledged to revive the country's moribund economy and end its international isolation.