/ 19 September 2007

Little support for strike in Zimbabwe

Bread queues snaked their way outside supermarkets in the Zimbabwean capital Harare on Wednesday, where few people appeared to have heeded a call by unions for a two-day general strike.

Traffic was heavy in the city centre, with minibuses heavily-loaded. Most banks, shops and stores were open for business.

The main Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) had called for a two-day stayaway to protest a wage freeze and shortages of basic commodities like bread following President Robert Mugabe’s controversial price slash two months ago.

However, the pattern of previous failed stayaways appeared to be repeating itself.

Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate hovers around 80%, leaving only a few workers with the option of staying away.

”Why should we be closed?” asked a shop assistant in a sparsely-stocked supermarket in the busy Avondale suburb, as she tried to persuade a customer to buy her own stocks of under-the-counter packets of margarine.

Some bloggers for local pressure group Kubatana said they doubted the strike would have any success.

”I don’t support the stayaway because it has never worked before,” wrote one blogger. ”It is foolish to try the same thing and expect different results.”

Life in once-prosperous Zimbabwe is getting harder. Shops have only a very limited range of goods and no basics like eggs, cereals, milk, salt, bread, meat, soft drinks or cooking oil.

Bread, which is supposed to sell for Z$30 000 ($1) per loaf has been selling for up to Z$200 000 ($6,60) on the black market.

One store on central Sam Nujoma Street had little more than packs of imported South Africa salted crackers at Z$1,2-million each, slightly less than a shopworker’s monthly salary.

The state-appointed National Incomes and Pricing Commission announced it had allowed for slight upward shifts in prices on Tuesday in an apparent bid to coax products back onto shop shelves, state radio said.

The government-set price for a 10kg bag of the staple maize-meal has been set at Z$152 400, still much lower than the black market price of Z$250 000.

The price of a two litre bottle of cooking oil has been allowed to rise to Z$660 000, although it is selling for at least Z$1,2-million on the black market.

Official inflation has dropped from more than 7 600% to 6 592,8% in August, the Central Statistical Office (CSO) said this week, though independent analysts say the real figure may be several thousand percentage points higher. ‒ Sapa-DPA