COMMUTERS were stranded in Zimbabwe’s two main cities on Monday as angry protesters reacting to the more than doubling of fuel prices at the weekend, burnt tyres and used rocks to barricade roads, and blocked buses from carrying passengers.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Saturday announced a more than 100 percent rise in the price of petrol and diesel, in a move to improve supplies as the country struggles with its worst fuel shortages in a decade.
Residents in Epworth, a poor suburb east of the capital Harare, woke up on Monday to find boulders blocking roads leading to the city centre.
In Bulawayo, demonstrators 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.
In a televised address late on 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 $3.33, with diesel up from $1.36 a litre to $3.11 starting on Sunday.
The main labour alliance, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) said the government had shown a clear lack of empathy for the already overburdened poor.
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Nelson Chamisa said: ‘We have a national crisis which is descending into a humanitarian crisis.’
Mnangagwa, who took over from Mugabe and won a disputed election in July, also 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 in early December demanding improved working conditions and that salaries be paid in US dollars.
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 warned that the 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.