AN UNEASY calm prevails in Zimbabwe, as citizens and businesses try to pick up the pieces two days after a shutdown on Wednesday led to violent clashes between police and youths in the capital Harare and Bulawayo, the second largest city.
The government has moved to “clarify” the imports ban, which sparked violent protests at the Beitbridge border post a week ago.
In the wake of the protests — which coincided with a strike by public servants — the government made an about turn on the payment of salaries for teachers and nurses.
The payment of their delayed June salaries had been deferred to mid-July, but on the back of protests, teachers were promptly paid on Thursday. Health sector workers were due to receive their salaries on Friday.
Union leaders said workers would report for duty on Friday, after accessing their salaries. Long, winding queues could be seen at the banks as government workers lined up to withdraw their June salaries.
Soldiers, police and other security services had already been paid, however.
Although the industrial action by civil servants has been called off, the Apex Council, the public servants representative body, urged the government to ensure it paid the outstanding public servants on Monday and Tuesday next week.
“While we appreciate the backward adjustment of the pay date for health services to 8 July, we further demand that the same adjustment be extended to the rest of the civil service, whose pay date should be brought forward to Monday, 11 July 2016 or at the latest Tuesday, 12 July 2016, in the name of parity,” it said.
The latest demands are likely to exert more pressure on the cash-strapped administration to quickly get the July salaries ready.
Rashweat Mukundu, chairman of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, said that, should the government miss this month’s pay dates, this would be a catalyst for further unrest.
“This will only increase the groups participating in the protest. We will see more and more citizens openly confronting the government and the frequency of the clashes will increase”, he said on Friday.
In the meantime, riot police continued to patrol the central business districts in Harare and Bulawayo, ready to prevent any possible disturbances.
Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo said state security organs were working round the clock to bring the situation under control.
“Those found on the wrong side of the law will be severely dealt with and they will have no one to blame. They are being seriously warned to desist from this unwanted behaviour…,”Chombo said.
In an effort to also calm anger over imports restrictions, the ministry of Industry and Commerce seems to have backtracked on Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 (SI 64).
It will now allow travellers to bring in various goods once during a calendar month — although restrictions on the quantities are in place.
A circular issued by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority indicated that travellers may bring in, among others, no more than 1kg of coffee creamers at a time; up to 180ml of camphor creams; 2kg of cereals; 2kg of peanut butter; 2kg of jam; 4kg of washing powder; a box of 24 soap bars; and four litres of juice blends.
Industry and Commerce ministry official Abigail Shonhiwa said the Statutory Instrument was not meant to affect travellers buying for their families, but was meant to spur the revival of local industry.
“SI 64 is temporary and targeted at products coming from anywhere in the world and not SA only, as Zimbabwe is aware of its regional obligations,” she told delegates at a Buy Local summit recently.
The importation of goods has become a source of livelihood for the majority of Zimbabwe’s 90% unemployed population.
In an assessment issued on Friday, the United Nations Development Programme in Zimbabwe warned that the number of people facing drought had risen to four million.
“The government, UN, non-governmental organisations, development partners and the private sector have reinforced their collective commitment to continue to work together to leverage their response and ensure that no one starves or dies of hunger in Zimbabwe,” it said.