September 5, 2010

Riots against price rises leave 4 to 11 people dead

Violent demonstrations in Maputo on the 1st and 2nd of September against price rises and the cost of living have left between 4 and 11 dead, reports „OneWorld.net“. According to the report, the riots were worst on the first day, on the second day most businesses and institutions were closed; there was no public transport in Maputo and most roads out of central Maputo remained blocked, including roads to the airport and Matola. The roads were blocked with burning tyres, trees, dustbins and other objects. Demonstrations started in the outer suburbs where the poorer people live. There were confrontations between rioters and police; shots and tear gas have been fired; at least some of the dead were shot by police.

According to the police four people died. The daily “O Pais“ reported that at an emergency Council Of Ministers meeting had said that 7 people had died and 288 had been injured. But “O Pais“ itself noted that 11 people were killed. Riots also took place on Friday in Chimoio in the centre part of the country: six people were injured and 68 arrested. In the meantime, The Red Cross, which has been monitoring the demonstrations since they started, said no fresh incidents of unrest in Maputo and Chimoio had been observed.

The protests were against the increase in prices of electricity and water, which took effect on the 1st of September, and the recent price rises of bread (about 30%) and fuel. Cost of living for the urban poor has risen sharply recently, reflecting global increases in fuel and food prices, and the ending of a very large fuel subsidy maintained after February 5th 2008 demonstrations (which left five people dead and more than 100 injured).

The devaluation of the metical has also played an important role, because much food and other goods are imported from South Africa. In January there were 4 meticais to the South African Rand and 29.3 to the US dollar. Today the official rate is 4.9 and 36.3, a 25% devaluation in just eight months. Publication of the 2008 family expenditure has been repeatedly delayed, but it is expected to show increases in both urban and rural poverty, rather than the decreases claimed by government and donors.

The demonstrators have largely been young men who were organised over the past few days by mobile telephone text messages (SMS). Few urban jobs have been created in recent years and young people are expected to survive in the “informal sector”, often selling goods on the street.

But in an unusually strong editorial entitled “Why 5 February? And now why 1 September?”, Jeremias Langa, the Editorial Director of “O Pais“, talkes of the “enormous disenchantment with the widening gap between those who have an those who do not have”. It is said that Mozambique is a world example of economic growth but this is not reflected in the quality of live of most citizens. It is said the Mozambique has the most agricultural potential in SADC but agriculture has been left to subsistence production and most of what we consume comes from South Africa, Langa notes. “Instead of offering solutions of the citizens, we offer magician’s tricks to distract the citizens,” he concludes. Thus, “there is a class that manifestly feels itself excluded from the distribution of income, that feels that the state has broken the social contract, that does not see that state as a source of solutions but of problems – because its promotes accumulation by a few to the detriment of the majority.”

While Interior Minister José Pacheco called the demonstrators “bandits” and “outlaws”, President Armando Guebuza called for calm and blamed agitators who were misleading young people. He said poverty could only be ended if people worked harder. Guebuza also warned citizens that the riots only brought pain and grief, and would lead to the deterioration of living conditions. In his address to the nation, the Mozambican statesman deplored the fact that instead of a peaceful and orderly demonstration, the protests resulted in deaths and serious injuries, and scenes of vandalism, destruction and looting. “Destroying markets, streets and other social and economic infrastructure is exactly the opposite of what we have been doing to help combat poverty in our beloved Motherland”.

Guebuza asserted that the Government was aware of the life led by the Mozambican population, “which is aggravated by external factors, such as the financial crisis and the rising price of food and fuel”. To counter the impact of these crises on the life of citizens, the Government had adopted a series of measures such as the subsidies on fuel and the importation of wheat, explained the President. Furthermore, the implementation of the Plan of Action for Food Production (PAPA) had a big emphasis on the struggle against poverty in urban areas and the countryside. According to Guebuza, there was progress in the implementation of PAPA, as well as improvements in water supply and sanitation, transport and communications, and health and education. The President also stressed that the Government continued to engage in the struggle against poverty through its Five Year Programme.

He furthermore called on Mozambicans to maintain calm and not engage in any type of agitation. Guebuza also urged people to increase productivity to fight poverty both individually and collectively. The President ended by saying that “the Government will continue to work to return life to normal for our fellow citizens and our institutions”. (AIM/Business Day/SADOCC)

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