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Thursday, 5 July, 2001, 22:40 GMT 23:40 UK
Zimbabwe admits food crisis
Deserted bus station during strike
Unions have threatened further strikes
Zimbabwe has admitted for the first time that it is running out of food and needs foreign aid to help it to buy grain from abroad.

Finance Minister Simba Makoni said there was no provision in the budget for such purchases.

Notwithstanding factors influencing our relations with other countries, when human lives are involved I hope we can find common cause

Zimbabwe Finance Minister Simba Makoni

He said he hoped that, where human life was concerned, the government and the donor community could find common cause.

He added that the Zimbabwe dollar was overvalued and warned of a possible tightening of foreign currency controls to curb the black market.

Devaluation was not imminent but could not be ruled out later, he said.

Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain 21 years ago. A chronic lack of foreign currency has led to a shortage of fuel and other essential imports.

Cereal crisis

United Nations experts say food production has fallen sharply because of the government's attempts to transfer land owned by white commercial farmers to its supporters.

Key economic indicators, 2000
GDP growth: -6.1%
GDP per head: $544
Inflation: 56.6%
Total debt per head: $406

Previously government officials have denied reports that Zimbabwe would not produce enough cereals this year to meet its needs, saying that some sections of society were trying to create artificial shortages.

The UN experts think Zimbabwe will need to buy up to 600,000 tonnes of cereals.

Foreign aid to Zimbabwe has largely dried up because of concerns about human rights and the actions of President Robert Mugabe against his political opponents.

Strike threat

Earlier on Thursday, union leaders threatened an indefinite strike unless the government reversed its recent 70% hike in petrol prices.

Bread in Harare
Prices of staples like bread have soared
The price rises, imposed by the government on 12 June, have further increased inflation, already running at almost 60%.

The union warning came a day after a 48-hour stayaway, which reports said brought the country to a standstill.

Zimbabwe has been racked by a series of strikes organised by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) since the late 1990s.

They have generally been called in protest at what the unions call economic mismanagement by President Mugabe's government, leading to a huge decline in living standards.

In 1999, the ZCTU was instrumental in forming the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which is now the official opposition party with 56 seats in parliament.

The MDC president, Morgan Tsvangirai, expected to challenge Robert Mugabe in presidential elections next year, used to be the ZCTU's leader.

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See also:

04 Jul 01 | Africa
Strikers defy Mugabe
29 Jun 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe warns of currency crisis
18 Jun 01 | Africa
Fuel protest in Zimbabwe
24 Apr 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe farmers urge devaluation
08 Mar 01 | Europe
'Critical' IMF talks in Zimbabwe
10 Jun 01 | Africa
Farm invasion threatens business
14 Mar 01 | Africa
Sun sets on Zimbabwe tourism
27 Feb 01 | Africa
Sore feet for Harare commuters
13 Jun 01 | Africa
Fuel prices surge in Zimbabwe
18 Jun 01 | Business
Zimbabwe on the verge of collapse
14 Jun 01 | Africa
Anger at Zimbabwe price rises
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