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Wednesday, December 2, 1998 Published at 12:47 GMT


Mugabe faces economic anger

Lack of custom forces businesses to close early

By Africa Correspondent Jane Standley

Zimbabwe's trade unions have been putting pressure on the increasingly unpopular government of President Robert Mugabe.


Jane Standley reports from Harare: Many are demanding change
Workers have been protesting about the deteriorating economic and political situation, and demanding a 20% wage rise, as well as wide-ranging reforms.

People are asking if President Mugabe - Zimbabwe's leader for all its 18 years of independence - may be about to lose power.

Business is not booming

With inflation at 40% and interest rates at 50%, customers in the capital Harare's poor townships are bitter and frustrated.


[ image: Many Zimbabweans now make their own clothes instead of buying them]
Many Zimbabweans now make their own clothes instead of buying them
"They are very angry because there is no money," Samuel MacKenzie, a Harare entrepreneur says.

The Zimbabwean dollar has collapsed. People can afford little. They are sewing clothes instead of buying. Many are walking to work.

The price of petrol has gone up 67% this month.

Fury at the handling of Zimbabwe's worst ever economic crisis is boiling over.

Massive rises in food prices have triggered violence, catching the government by surprise. It thought the harsh security services had forced people into submission.

Anger at government

President Robert Mugabe still has almost autocratic power. But his people are tired of corruption and nepotism.


Richard Dowden of The Economist assesses the economic crisis
They are questioning his military adventure in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Donor nations are withholding funds. They are critical of proposals to seize land from white farmers.


[ image: President Mugabe: Military involvement in Congo is attracting criticism]
President Mugabe: Military involvement in Congo is attracting criticism
But the government is unrepentant.

"The international community must mind its own business," says government minister Chen Chimutengwende.

"What is happening in this country does happen to many countries. What we have is a problem and we have to deal with it like any other country," he says.

Trade unions gain momentum

Strikes have become the people's way of dealing with their problems. The trade unions are taking on the government in the absence of credible political opposition.


[ image: Morgan Tsvangirai: Talked of as new president]
Morgan Tsvangirai: Talked of as new president
Union leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, is being talked of as a future president. Newly emboldened, his demands have expanded from wage increases to political change.

"Everyone has accepted that the old generation has played its part and it is time for them to pack up. There is nothing more they can offer, no new visions to push the country forward," Mr Tsvangirai says.

It is not surprising that Robert Mugabe's old adversary, Ian Smith - former Rhodesian Prime Minister - is also calling for change.

He says the economy has declined even more than he had predicted.


[ image: Ian Smith: Decline greater than predicted]
Ian Smith: Decline greater than predicted
"I always thought there was great hope for us. But I do get depressed when I see the dreadful things this communist government has done to our country, how they have dragged us down," Mr Smith says.

The anger and disillusionment in the townships is, for the moment, containable. But the economic crisis is fuelling demands for change, rarely heard from Zimbabweans before.

An increasingly remote government and the lack of a viable political alternative makes it difficult, though, to see where the change would come from.





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In this section

Mugabe's long shadow

Political conspiracy or economic mismanagement?

Mugabe's unpopular war

Land battle sets black against white

Mugabe faces economic anger

Meeting Mr Mugabe

Zimbabwe's history: Key dates