A small group of civil servants marched in Harare, the capital, on Wednesday. Authorities allowed the demonstration but deployed a heavy police presence. They are demanding higher pay as economic conditions in the southern African country continue to deteriorate.
Growing discontent in the public sector is a further challenge to the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa as it struggles to battle soaring inflation, collapsing confidence in the country’s multiple currencies, the effects of an acute drought and rolling power cuts.
Organisers of the protest talked about “a real crisis of existence”.
David Dzatsunga, the secretary general of the Apex Council, a grouping of government workers’ unions representing 230,000 employees, said civil servants should be described as “civil slaves”.
“No matter what happens, we have made a statement as civil servants [today]that we are dying and we are dying slowly,” he said.
Inflation in Zimbabwe has reached 175 percent and basic goods – including food and medicine – are increasingly rare. Fuel prices have quadrupled since the start of the year.
Obert Masaraure, leader of Artuz, which represents rural teachers, said that many of his union’s members earned less than USD40 (£31) per month, barely enough to buy flour, sugar and cooking oil for a family of four.
President Mnangagwa took power after Robert Mugabe, the former president, was ousted in a military takeover nearly two years ago.
Mnangagwa, a former spy chief, won a disputed election in 2018 with a pledge to revive the economy, tackle widespread corruption and end the country’s international isolation.
The government has launched a series of initiatives aimed at bolstering the economy, and earlier this week the Zimbabwe anti-corruption commission (ZACC) detained a cabinet minister for abuse of office alleged to have cost the government USD3.7m. Officials at the commission said further arrests could be expected.
However, Mnangagwa has been either unable or unwilling to push through measures that might have convinced investors and multilateral institutions to provide the funds to resuscitate the economy.
Many of the economic problems are a legacy of decades of mismanagement under Mugabe, who died in September.
The rising prices reminded many of the economic collapse a decade ago, when hyperinflation emptied shelves of basic foodstuffs and led the country to abandon its currency.
In January, Mnangagwa announced an increase in fuel prices of more than 100 percent, triggering widespread protests that left at least 17 people dead and scores injured when soldiers opened fire on the strikers.
The situation in rural areas is particularly bad, aid workers in Zimbabwe said, though there is growing evidence of widespread malnutrition in cities too.
A government document early this year said about 7.5 million people – about half of the country’s population – in both rural and urban areas would require emergency food aid between February 2019 and March next year. (Source: The Guardian)