21 December 2002

Fuel trickles into Zim

Emergency fuel imports began trickling into Zimbabwe on Saturday, Dec 21, but industry sources said the amounts were too small to have a major impact on a severe fuel shortage that has crippled the country. A two-week fuel shortage has almost ground the country to a halt, paralysing public transport and leaving motorists in long fuel queues - highlighting an economic meltdown critics blame on President Robert Mugabe's government. The fuel crisis has dampened the Christmas holiday season of a nation already grappling with its worst economic crisis in decades, including serious food shortages. Motorists jammed a few fuel service stations that received some petrol and diesel early on Saturday, but oil industry sources said the supplies expected from the emergency imports would not help much. "The supplies we are seeing so far are too small to make a major difference, and only a few service stations have received some fuel so far," one source said.

Energy and Power Development Minister Amos Midzi said on Thursday the country had ordered fuel worth over $15 million from Kuwait and South Africa to ease the shortage. He expected the shipments to arrive in Zimbabwe on Saturday and Sunday. Midzi said a barter fuel deal with Libya had run into problems because Zimbabwe was unable to supply the beef, sugar and tobacco it had agreed to pay for Libyan oil imports and had no foreign currency for other oil import deals. Midzi and officials from the country's sole oil procurement agency NOCZIM were unavailable for further comment. The fuel crisis has worsened Zimbabwe's economic woes and sparked public anger against Mugabe's government, in power since independence from Britain in 1980. Zimbabweans are grappling with shortages of many basic consumers goods, including bread, milk, cooking oil and sugar. Nearly half of the country's 14 million people are threatened by severe food shortages which Mugabe has blamed on drought but his critics point to the state seizure of white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks.

Mugabe (78) denies he has grossly mismanaged the economy and says the country is a victim of sabotage by domestic and foreign opponents opposed to his land reforms. Zimbabwe's official Herald newspaper reported on Saturday that besides grappling with the fuel shortage Christmas shoppers had been hit by a cash shortage at automated bank machines. An unprecedented demand for cash had seen some banks running out of bank notes in the past week, especially the highest denominated 500 Zimbabwe dollar bills, it said. The newspaper quoted official sources as saying that the currency shortage was due to the high demand in cash and a shortage of foreign currency to import the special paper used to print money.

Zimbabwe's annual inflation hit a record 175.5% in November, and private economists say it might reach 400% by the end of next year. (ZWNews / News24, SA)

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