ED moves to avert winter of discontent

Chris Mahove/ Politics

President Mnangagwa may have just averted what would have been the setting in of a winter of discontent beginning with a stay-away this Monday.

At the weekend, the Head of State announced a raft of measures to restore confidence in the economy and ensure macro-economic stability against a background of what appeared to be a slide towards national discontent.

Price hikes, inflation and transport problems that the country witnessed over the past few weeks set the country on a slippery slope, with opposition forces touting a protest “shutdown”.

However, on Saturday Mnangagwa moved to forestall the planned agitation.

He announced measures that among other things, seek to instil discipline and a level playing field in the pricing of goods and services in the market under a dual currency system.

He acknowledged that the continued depreciation of the domestic currency against the US dollar, if left unchecked, could lead to the reversal of economic stability gains achieved since the introduction of the foreign exchange auction system in July 2020.

President Mnangagwa’s announcement comes after Zimbabweans had raised concern over the rise in month-on-month inflation, from a monthly average of 4.5% seen in the past 12 months to 15.5% in April 2022, which had resulted in the skyrocketing of prices of basic commodities.

The situation had caused discontent among workers, businesspeople, peasants and students alike, who had expressed the need for quick-fix solutions to save the country from sliding back to the 2008 era of hyper-inflation, shortages and empty-shelves.

Some civic society organisations had called for a nationwide stay-away Monday to protest what they termed the general deterioration of the economy.

But President Mnangagwa moved in to quell the situation, assuring Zimbabweans that economic fundamentals to support a stable domestic currency were currently in place as evidenced by the amount of foreign currency being generated in the economy against the quantum of local currency deposits.

“For instance, the country generated foreign currency in excess of US$9.7 billion in 2021 compared to US$6.3 billion recorded in 2020, showing an increase of 53.5%.             

Foreign currency earnings for the first quarter ending 31 March 2022 were US$2.4 billion representing an increase of 15.9% from US$2.04 billion generated during the same period in 2021. Resultantly, the foreign currency liquidity in the economy has continued to increase to reach the current level of US$2.4 billion, made up of foreign currency accounts (FCAs) deposits of US$1.4 billion  and national reserves of USS 1.0 billion,” he said

He said government would immediately compensate the loss of value on bank deposits to individuals who had funds in their bank accounts of US$1 000 and below as of end of January 2019 after the currency change over adversely affected the value of bank deposits of the banking public as a result of the depreciation of the exchange rate.

“The compensation for amounts less than US$I 000 has begun and will continue. Currently, a framework is also being put in place to compensate individuals with bank accounts of up to USS100 000. The amount required and Implementation modalities of this policy will be announced in due course guided by the Public Debt Management Act and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe,” he said.

To ensure price stability, retailers and wholesalers were, with immediate effect allowed to benchmark their pricing to the average interbank rate with a maximum allowable variance of 10%.

President Mnagagwa announced other measures which included the clearance of foreign auction backlog by May 12, the continuation of partial dollarisation (Dual Currency System), collection of revenue in foreign currency and subsequent spending of the same to support critical Government programmes and projects and to introduce a market determined exchange rate system.

He also announced an immediate  increase in the amount of USD to be traded under the US$1000 foreign payment limit per day per individual per week per individual to US$5000 per day with a limit of US$10 000 per week per individual.

To address the transport crisis that has affected commuters over the past few weeks, President Mnangagwa said private operators will now be allowed to operate under terms and conditions to be published by Government.

“The Police would need to ensure that law and order is adhered to as the behaviour on our roads needs to be seriously attended to. Non adherence to the rules and regulations to be gazetted would not be tolerated,” he said.

Despite the almost unanimous acknowledgment that things were not the way they should be, the  country-wide stay-away called for by civil society groups Monday, had divided the nation, with some saying the move was pre-mature while others said the time was now to send a clear message to government .

The Zimbabwe National Students’ Union (ZINASU), with the support of other civic organisations under the banner of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, had called for a national shut down of the entire country this Monday to protest astronomical fees at higher institutes of learning and the general deterioration of the economy.

Benon Babongile Ncube, the student union’s president, said they were riled by the fee hikes and unreasonable registration deadlines and had written twice to the Minister and to Parliament without success, adding their protests would be multi-thronged.

“The Minister justified the fees hikes for quality education which we find unreasonable because what is quality education when only 20 will attend a class of 100. Until these issues are addressed, there is no formula on what the students should do but rather express their discontent however they feel will get them heard. 

Ncube said he was already a victim of the high fees as he failed to sit for his final year examinations, saying he would protest on behalf of other students who faced the same predicament as his.

But ZFTU Secretary General, Kennias Shamuyarira, said while Zimbabwe National Students’ Union (ZINASU) and other civic organisations that have called for a mass stay-away this week had genuine concerns,  their actions could be premature as they had not exhausted all channels of resolving the challenges in the country.

He said protests should only be considered if Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) negotiations, which bring together business, government and workers fails to yield positive results for all citizens.

“So far we are yet to get to that level as the ZFTU. At the moment we are not getting involved because it is a wild move of which we are not aware of the strategists behind and their agenda. We will start by exhausting the TNF platform which is at law. If we reach a deadlock, we will know the next move to take. That is when we can then say we are now going for demonstrations, after we have exhausted TNF channels,” he said.

He said stay-aways and protests usually had dire consequences which could cost the ordinary people, for which labour unions would be held accountable.

“We are a constituted tripartite constituency therefore we must exhaust that channel because when we go for these strikes and mass stay aways we know there are consequences that might even lead to death or loss of jobs. So we will be held accountable if we just join haphazardly that is why we are being cautious. But their concerns are genuine,” he said.

The ZFTU boss said they were planning on meeting President Emerson Mnangagwa to air their grievances as labour.

“We are thinking of meeting the President again for the second time and find out progress on our previous discussions. If that fails to yield positive results, that’s when we can start thinking of protests. We are not taking away anything from what the organisers are doing, but we don’t get instructions from students and other stooge organisations,” he said.

Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) President, Robson Chere said they were participating in the stay-away as part of their demands for pre-October October 2018 salaries, State funded education to stop drop-outs and an end to persecution of teachers.

He said teachers were also demanding an Education Equalisation Fund for infrastructure development in rural schools as well as a 20% budget allocation for education in line with the Dakar threshold.

“The government of Zimbabwe has not been responsive to our countless calls to get attention on the raised issues. The shutdown is a message to the government that citizens need solutions to the socio-economic crisis and we are confident that the government will act on our demands,” he said.

Social media pressure group, Team Pachedu, however, said government had failed to fulfil promises it made to fix the economy, thus, the protest action was necessary.

“Mthuli Ncube pleaded for six months to fix the economy, but it’s now four years, yet the economy has worsened and the cost of living is now higher than it was in 2018. On 9 May, we are staying away to send a message to the Government that we are not happy,” the group said.

One ordinary citizen, Thabisa Sibanda took to twitter to express his fears that a stay-away would likely to bring more harm than good to the largely informal economy of the country where citizens lived from hand to mouth.

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