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Massive Gas Price Hike in Zimbabwe Sparks Calls for General Strike - 2003-04-16

In Zimbabwe, a massive hike in the price of gasoline Wednesday has brought calls from the political opposition for an immediate and indefinite general strike.

Energy minister Amos Midzi announced a 209 percent increase in the price of petrol late Tuesday. It is the second increase in fuel prices since February, when the government doubled the price of fuel.

A liter of gasoline now costs $8.18 while diesel costs $3.64 a liter at the official exchange rate of 55 Zimbabwe dollars to one U.S. dollar. Some workers say it will now cost them more to get to work than they earn in wages.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change has denounced the increase and warned of more strikes. The secretary-general of the MDC, Welshman Ncube, said the increase was an open invitation for the people of Zimbabwe to take the route of mass action against a government that does not deserve to continue a day longer than necessary.

Last month the MDC called a two-day national strike that paralyzed commerce and industry. The opposition said the strike was a call for reforms, to ease growing repression and violence against its supporters.

Many workers said the opposition should call an indefinite strike immediately in protest against the increase in the price of fuel and the rate of inflation, which has now soared to 228 percent.

While urban commuters are reeling from the increase in fuel, industrialists say they are struggling to keep their factories going, as cuts in electricity have reduced their working days by half. The cuts have aggravated the country's unemployment problem, with around 70 percent of workers unemployed.