ZCTU plans for mass action

Published: 07 October 2019
AS THE prices of basic good continues to zoom beyond the means of the majority, any lingering hopes as recently expressed by under-fire Finance minister Mthuli Ncube that the country's deepening economic crisis will soon let up are dead in the water, the Daily News reported.

This comes as an agitated Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) warned yesterday that it would soon call for rolling mass actions, to protest the government's lack of care about the worsening plight of Zimbabweans.

It also comes as long-suffering citizens have just been dealt another heavy blow, after the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera) once again sharply increased the prices of fuel at the weekend, in a development that is set to stoke the prices of goods further.  This saw the price of diesel shooting up from $12,42 a litre to a whopping $15,64 while petrol went up from $11,76 a litre to a staggering $14,97.

The new fuel prices came barely three days after the country's power utility, Zesa Holdings, also announced a shocking tariff hike of 583 percent. Speaking to the Daily News yesterday, a wide cross-section of Zimbabweans described these latest price increases as a recipe for disaster and an indictment on the government adding that authorities needed to act urgently if civil unrest was to be avoided.

Tendai Biti, an opposition kingpin and former Finance minister in the stability-inducing government of national unity, said more Zimbabweans would be pushed to the economic brink as a result of the increases and the government's lack of concern for citizens.

"There is no rationale to all this. The government does not care as
it is totally irresponsible. How can you keep increasing the prices of fuel when the real wages of workers are being eroded?

"Mnangagwa should not be anywhere near the office of power. If this persists, it's going to be a disaster. It means that ... more people are going to die of hunger," Biti said.

Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said life in the country was set to get more difficult for the majority of Zimbabweans.

"If we have fuel prices at $15 a litre now, it means that by the end of the year it could exceed $45 to $50 if nothing is done.

"As a result, there are high chances that the mood of the people will soon reach a combustible point, with prospects of protests across the country.

"I can say without any doubt that it will be a bleak Christmas this year unless something dramatic happens between now and the end of the year," Masunungure said.

The ZCTU secretary-general, Japhet Moyo, said the prices of goods had not been matching wages since the government embarked on its recent fiscal and monetary policies.

"So far, the highest salary increase has been 50 percent, but goods have gone up by 100 or 200 percent. This has left workers impoverished.

"We are back to the 2007/2008 era, with the only difference being that during that period there was nothing on the shelves. This time people are starving while looking at the goods in the shops.

"We are now planning a very sustained campaign (strikes), and Zimbabweans should brace for that. We are going to organise sustained campaigns of protests week in, week out.

"We are not going to be deterred by threats of any kind or numbers which may be significantly low at the beginning ... We are left with no alternative but to air our views through urging people not to go to work," Moyo said.

The president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), Henry Ruzvidzo, said the situation in the country was "fast running out of control and has its roots in the continued injection of money into the economy that is unmatched by foreign currency and production".

"The model is unsustainable and will ultimately lead to product shortages ... it is causing serious hardships to consumers.

"The fiscal and monetary authorities have not helped the situation as they have not handled the financing of government projects in a way that is not inflationary," he said.

The president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR), Denford Mutashu, also said the developments in the economy pointed to the continued weakening of the Zimbabwe dollar against the United States dollar adding that the country was sliding back to hyperinflation.

"The major production cost drivers have gone up and prices will be in hot pursuit. The pressure on salaries and wages remains intense as incomes continue to be eroded.

"The cost of market liberalisation in an economy without production has also increased the inequality gap between the poor and the rich," he said.

Economist John Robertson said there were a lot of distortions in key economic areas, adding that there was an urgent need for a rescue plan for the country.

"We have price distortions, wage distortions, tax rate distortions, import cost distortions, subsidy distortions, export revenue distortions all being exploited by corruption distortions.

"A successful rescue strategy for the country needs to tackle
all these at the same time. Only outstanding leadership will put success within reach," he said, adding that fuel prices were chasing the exchange rate between the Zim dollar and the US dollar.

"The idea of weekly fuel hikes is ill-conceived and fuels inflationary expectations. Shops are now adjusting prices upwards every Monday religiously. We cannot run a country like a tuckshop.

"It is causing price instability, making it very unattractive for investment. We have heard of new investment projects being abandoned because you simply cannot plan ahead," another economist, Vince Musewe, chipped in.

All this comes as an increasingly under-pressure President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his misfiring government have pleaded for more time to turn around the country's sickly economy.

Mnangagwa, who marks two years in power next month since the military dramatically ousted the late former president Robert Mugabe in November 2017, has also since openly admitted that the local economy is dead.

"I am aware of the pain being experienced by the poor and the marginalised ... getting the economy working again from being dead will require time, patience, unity of purpose and perseverance," he said on Tuesday last week, while officially opening Parliament.

And there is no sign anywhere that the ongoing suffering will end anytime soon, as poverty levels in the country deepen.

A survey by our news crew in Harare also showed that most shops have increased their prices in response to the fuel price and power tariff hikes.

For example, a crate of 30 eggs now costs $52, while a 2-litre bottle of Mazoe Orange Crush which cost $32 last week is now priced at $42.

A 10kg bag of roller meal now costs $50, while for two litres of cooking oil a shopper must part with $52, from last week's $43,80.

Other basic goods whose prices were increased significantly are 1 litre of fresh milk which has risen from $8,49 to $17, with most shops also reporting shortages.

Locally-made bath soaps are now retailing at between $9,99 and $18,10 depending on the brand and size up from last week's price of between $4,35 and $8,99.

Tea leaves which cost between $10 and $16 last week are going for between $24 and $26 depending on the supermarket. A bar of laundry soap which was going for $18,99 last week is now priced at between $24,50 and $25,59 while a 2-kg bag of salt now costs between $10,99 and $19,99 from $9,45 last week.

The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) said at the weekend that the soaring prices of goods would have serious consequences on long-suffering consumers and the country.

"The prices of goods and ser- vices have been galloping beyond the reach of many consumers. The many stakeholder workshops between government, business and labour seem to have not yielded anything to lift the burden off the long-suffering consumers," the watchdog said.

Economist Gift Mugano also said the government was failing
to create a good environment for business and this was causing a lot of damage to both ordinary people and companies.

"The hike in tariffs simply means that businesses will incur operational costs, hence their decision to also hike basic commodities prices to match up with the production costs.

"As a country we need serious reforms to create a conducive business environment and to attract investors. But unfortunately we are doing the opposite," he said.

"The country is also infested with high levels of corruption which is not being addressed, as well as many archaic statutory instruments.

"What the government should know is that we cannot use statutory instruments to run an economy. What we need as a country is political coherence and dialogue between president Mnangagwa and (MDC leader Nelson) Chamisa," Mugano said further.

Zimbabwe is currently going through its worst economic crisis in a decade, as the country battles acute shortages of foreign currency, fuel, electricity, medicines and water which has triggered unrest among long-suffering citizens.
- dailynews
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