Bulawayo, Zimbabwe – Protesters in Zimbabwe barricaded the main roads into major cities on Monday to protest a fuel price hike announced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
In the southern city of Bulawayo, commuter bus drivers and touts blocked thoroughfares with burning tyres, tree branches, and blocks of stone. Riot police tried to quell demonstrations in the western suburbs of Emakhandeni and Luveve, firing warning shots and tear gas but the protesters remained defiant.
Demonstrator Glen Ncube, 25, expressed anger at the president’s announcement on Saturday of a 150 percent fuel price increase and the police actions.
“What kind of a man does this? Can Mnangagwa even be called a president? He’s making life hard for us and these police are trying to stop us as if they don’t know our pain,” said Ncube.
The government has vowed it “will not hesitate to take action” against protesters who threaten to destabilise the country and the military was deployed to assist police.
Zimbabwe is going through its worst economic crisis in a decade.
The government announced an increase from $1.34 for a litre of petrol to $3.31 with diesel surging to $3.11 per litre, igniting widespread discontent. A three-day nationwide shutdown was called by workers’ trade unions in protest. The action comes shortly after junior doctors ended a 40-day strike demanding salaries in US dollars and better working conditions.
Since the crash of the hyper-inflated Zimbabwe dollar in 2008, the country uses several currencies including the US dollar and its unpopular local surrogate called the bond note. Because of a severe shortage of forex, most daily transactions are done in bond notes with the US dollar and South African rand trading on the black market at inflated rates.
Unemployed Morrisson Nxulmalo, 33, told Al Jazeera he was prepared to protest until the government reversed the price increase.
“The fuel prices must come down, we are not going anywhere until they bring it down. This government is trying to play with us, they can bring their tear gas and police but we’re here to fight for this country, I’m not going anywhere,” he said.
A shopping complex in neighbouring Entumbane was looted with people carrying out crates of food and drinks and bottles of cooking oil while police battled to stop them from entering shops.
In Bulawayo’s city centre, people marched to the courthouse and disrupted proceedings. Crowds swelled as ordinary citizens joined with protesting activists and touts to add their voice to the anti-fuel price demonstrations.
The hike has impacted commuter fares that have doubled since Saturday’s announcement while some businesses shut their doors to protect stocks from potential looters.
The government of Zimbabwe issued a statement condemning the riots as Western-sponsored acts.
“This brazenly unconstitutional plan which has sought financial support from some regime change organisations based in America and Germany, among other countries, represents a serious threat to our consolidating democracy, to the rule of law in our country, and to the authority of government and the state,” the statement said.
Following a de facto coup in November 2017 long-time ruler Robert Mugabe stepped down and following a disputed election in July that saw Mnangagwa elected into office, the leader has promised an economic turnaround for the Southern African nation.
However, since the government’s introduction of a two percent transaction tax in October, Zimbabwe’s money woes have worsened and inflation has soared to double digit figures since then.
Mnangagwa is currently in Moscow, Russia as part of a tour of Eastern Europe where he hopes to solicit investors and strike deals in a bid to help Zimbabwe’s ailing economy.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS