Zimbabwe businesses losing millions as shutdown continues

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Businesses in Zimbabwe are losing millions of dollars per day as a shutdown protest – called for by the country’s biggest labour union body – continues over a sudden 150% hike in fuel prices.

Most businesses were closed by midday on Monday, when violent protests that started in high-density suburbs spread to the central business district of Harare.

Businesses, at least in Harare, remained closed on Tuesday, amid social media threats of unspecified action to those who defied the call to stay away.

The country’s biggest labour union body, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, called for the 3-day stayaway after the government announced that the price of petrol would increase from $1.31 per litre to $3.31/l, the highest in the world.

According to AFP, five Zimbabweans have been killed in the fuel hike protests.

Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Christopher Mugaga said businesses, and retailers in particular, stood to lose at least $5m for every day they were closed.

“We have looked at it. We are talking of an average $5m per day in sales, especially in the retail sector. This also comes in a month we have lost a lot of productive hours in fuel queues. So January will be the lowest in terms of productive hours,” said Mugaga.

While only CBD and high-density outlets were closed Monday, those in wealthy suburbs, such as Sam Levy Village, Zimbabwe’s most affluent mall, remained closed on Tuesday amid social media threats.

At noon on Tuesday, social media platform WhatsApp seemed not to be working, with many taking to Twitter to express their dismay with government action.

Some businesses also fell victim to looting, with at least two outlets belonging to Botswana retail Group Choppies having been looted.

Meanwhile, the US embassy in Harare has issued a security statement alerting its citizens and officials to avoid the central business district in the capital city, as well as in Bulawayo.

“There have been widespread tensions, sometimes including violent protests, countrywide — including in Harare’s Central Business District, Epworth, Chitungwiza, and downtown Bulawayo.

“Additionally, there are reports of fights breaking out in fuel queues and as a result the embassy advised official Americans to not use fuel stations until the situation has calmed.”