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Black Market Traders Take Advantage of Zimbabwe Fuel Shortage

A pedestrian walks past a fuel station in Harare, with few motorists queuing in anticipation of the arrival of fuel supplies (File photo)
Zimbabweans are paying exorbitant prices for fuel as the country's supply hits an all time low. This has hit commuters hardest.

Zimbabweans pay about 40 cents for a liter of gasoline at the pump at the official rate. But during the current shortage, the worst since 1999 when the country's fuel supply became erratic, VOA has witnessed transactions where gasoline exchanged hands for almost $3.00 and $4.00 a liter. A local daily newspaper, The Daily Mirror, says some market dealers are charging more than $7.00 per liter.

As a result of the current crippling shortage, government has allowed open trucks to ferry commuters who are spending hours waiting for transport to and from work. The transport minister has also appealed to employers to provide their workers with transportation. But a factory owner who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity said as much as they would like to help to maintain productivity, employers have to join the long lines at the few gas stations receiving fuel like every one else.

A Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe official who does not want to be identified told VOA that the current scarcity is caused by a shortage of foreign currency to import fuel. He said that the government, in a bid to make things look normal, used up most of the foreign currency for imports during the run-up to the March 31 parliamentary elections. The ongoing shortage started a few days after the election results were announced.

While the situation has forced many motorists to stop using their cars to join the commuters the minibus operators who augment the almost non-existent public transport system are demanding higher fares. They are charging more than the government fixed fares saying they are getting their fuel at black market prices.

The government has said the current high price of crude oil has worsened the situation. The Reserve Bank official, however, said the government has so far resisted an increase of the pump price because it would result in prices of other commodities to rise, pushing up inflation. Zimbabwe's May inflation rate rose to 144 percent from April's figure of 129 percent. The inflation rate, which has been slowly falling, peaked at more than six hundred percent in January 2004.

Landlocked Zimbabwe's fixed fuel price is the lowest in the southern African region. In South Africa motorist are currently paying 77 cents per liter of gasoline while in Mozambique the price is about $1.00.