Angry protesters barricaded roads with burning tyres and rocks in Zimbabwe on Monday after the government more than doubled the price of fuel in a bid to improve supplies as the country battles its worst gasoline shortages in a decade.
Protesters turned back drivers and blocked buses from carrying passengers in Zimbabwe’s two main cities of Harare and Bulawayo as the main labour federation called for three-day nationwide strike.
Soldiers were deployed at a shopping centre in Bulawayo’s township of Entumbane where protesters looted shops.
Demonstrators in the second city had attacked minibuses heading to the city centre and used burning tyres and stones to block the main routes into town while some schools were turning away pupils fearing for their safety.
Shops closed in downtown Harare as riot police patrolled the streets and a military helicopter flew over the capital.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Saturday night announced a more than 100-per cent rise in the price of petrol and diesel in a move he said would end fuel shortages.
“We have suffered enough,” author Philani Nyoni who was part of the protest in Bulawayo.
“The government is now aware that we are not happy with their stupid policies like the fuel price increase,” said Nyoni, calling on the president who is on a tour of Europe, to return home to “sort out things”.
– ‘We have suffered enough’ –
“We want Mnangagwa to know our displeasure in his failure,” said another Bulawayo protester, Mthandazo Moyo, 22.
“Mugabe was evil but he listened,” he added, referring to former autocratic and long-time ruler Robert Mugabe, who was ousted in November 2017.
Residents in Epworth, a poor suburb east of the capital Harare, on Monday, woke up to find boulders blocking roads and the protesters set ablaze a tent at a police post.
“It’s tense since early morning,” Nhamo Tembo, an Epworth resident said.
Zimbabwe’s economy has been in a slump for more than a decade, with cash shortages, high unemployment and recently a scarcity of staples such as bread and cooking oil.
In a televised address late Saturday, Mnangagwa said prices of petrol and diesel would more than double to tackle a shortfall caused by increased fuel usage and “rampant” illegal trading.
Petrol prices rose from $1.24 a litre to $3.31 (2.89 euros), with diesel up from $1.36 a litre to $3.11 starting Sunday – one of the highest pump prices in the world.
The main labour alliance, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions has called for a three-day stay-at-home strike as it said the government had shown a clear lack of empathy for the already overburdened poor.
Government has accused the strike organisers of pushing a political “regime change” agenda and of “subversive political activities”.
“It has become obvious that there is deliberate plan to undermine and challenge the prevailing constitutional order,” said government spokesman Nick Mangwana in a statement late Sunday night.
He warned that government will “respond appropriately” against “all those who have been conspiring to subvert peace, law and order in the country”.
– ‘Subversive political activities’ –
He accused unnamed opposition parties of disguising themselves as civic groups and of sponsoring civil unrest.
Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Nelson Chamisa said: “We have a national crisis which is descending into a humanitarian crisis”.
Mnangagwa took over from Mugabe following military intervention before winning the disputed election in July.
He has announced a package of measures to help state workers after strikes by doctors and teachers over poor pay.
Doctors in state hospitals went on a 40-day strike beginning early December demanding salaries be paid in US dollars and improved work conditions.
Teachers unions called a strike last week for better pay but their calls went largely unheeded.
Mnangagwa announced “a package of measures to cushion government workers.”
He also warned government would come down hard on “elements bent on taking advantage of the current fuel shortages to cause and sponsor unrest and instability in the country.”
When he took over from Mugabe, Mnangagwa pledged to revive the moribund economy and end the country’s international isolation.