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Protestors rally against money meltdown

By Patrick Smith
Posted on Friday, 19 August 2016 11:43

On the back of these protests, opposition party officials say they are planning a much bigger demonstration in Harare next week, trying to capitalise widespread frustration with the dollar shortage and late payments of salaries.

…on bond notes, the RBZ [Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe] is not forcing the country to use them

Over 100 protestors, many from the Tajamuka (meaning “defiance” in Shona) social movement which have organised protests and stayaways over the past two months, gathered outside government offices on 17 and 18 August in the centre of Harare to demand the exit of President Robert Mugabe’s government.

They marched through the streets singing freedom songs and waving banners. Eye-witnesses said anti-riot police tried to push back the demonstrators firing tear gas canisters and water cannons, hitting some with batons. Some protestors suffered serious head wounds.

Protest leaders tried to win over the police, insisting they would remain disciplined and non-violent. Some even presented flowers to the police symbolising their peaceful intentions. Such entreaties mostly fell on deaf ears.

Protestors also targeted the Harare office of the UN Children’s Fund. Unicef officials were dragged into a political row after they issued a statement on 13 August condemning the use of children in an event commemorating the abduction and disappearance of Itai Dzamara, an opposition activist who had publicly and repeatedly called for President Mugabe’s resignation.

Unicef officials said it was not in the best interests of children to expose them to politically charged situations but opposition activists claimed that all the children present at the commemoration were either Dzamara’s own children, or his nieces and nephews. Eventually, some of the protest leaders were allowed into the Unicef offices to discuss the matter with officials there. Later in the day, an armed guard of anti-riot police was stationed outside Unicef.

These latest protests follow a massive stayaway on 5 and 6 July in response to the lack of US dollar banknotes in the country. Most Zimbabweans have been using US dollars since the government abandoned the Zimbabwe dollar in 2009 when inflation hit 500billion percent.

Now there is a chronic shortage of US dollar notes with the banks restricting daily withdrawals to $100. Many of the ATM machines have stopped operating. The government blames the shortage on companies refusing to repatriate their export earnings to Zimbabwe.

Speaking to the Confederation of Zimbabwe retailers on 15 August, Reserve Bank governor John Mangudya said: “…on bond notes, the RBZ [Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe] is not forcing the country to use them” but wanted to offer exporters an incentive. Those companies using the bond notes would earn a 5% bonus on their export proceeds when brought back into the country via the central bank, he added.

* The forthcomingThe Africa Report Finance Special will have a detailed analysis on the political implications of the mounting economic pressures in Zimbabwe and a opinion column by award-winning journalist Farai Sevenzo

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