Zimbabwe on edge as companies are forced to close

HARARE – Zimbabwe edged closer to the brink yesterday as economic activity in the capital Harare stuttered following tumultuous post-poll violence that claimed six lives on Wednesday.

Most companies remained closed amid fears that the situation could explode again.

Christopher McKee, chief executive of country risk rating and forecasting company PRS Group, warned that the uncertainty would make the country risky for investors.

“The response from the military in opening fire on MDC Alliance protesters is fast undermining the goodwill that (President Emmerson) Mnangagwa built in recent months from the international community,” said McKee.

Mnangagwa said he was in “communication with opposition MDC leader Nelson Chamisa to defuse the situation”.

Innscor Limited, which runs Nando’s, Chicken Inn and Steers, did not open for the better part of the day, while OK and Pick * Pay closed down in the afternoon.

Banks such as FBC Bank were closed, despite people queueing to withdraw bond notes that the central bank minted in large quantities on the eve of Monday’s poll. Standard Chartered Zimbabwe was, however, open.

Operators told Business Report that they closed as a precaution.

“There is no point opening up our businesses, because if these riots worsen our properties and equipment might be damaged. Yesterday was worrisome, not only for us but also for our workers, who had to walk long distances to get taxis to go home,” said a manager with a large retail operator in Zimbabwe.

Mnangagwa’s ruling Zanu-PF party has claimed a two-thirds majority in the house of assembly, building up on massive poll victories in rural areas. However, MDC has accused him of stealing the vote. By late afternoon, attention had shifted to presidential poll results that have been at the centre of contestation.

Other businesses said continued haggling by the Zimbabwean political parties over the election outcome would affect business confidence and a return to economic recovery.

Economists Johannes Kwangwari said the economy would suffer the most if the political uncertainty remained unresolved.

“It’s the economy that suffers from this and the earlier this situation is resolved the better for the economy,” said Kwangwari. “Business has slowed and activity in the CBD is low, because no-one wants to trade when you are afraid you may be caught up in violence.”