Harare workers down tools, demand salary in forex

Harare – Harare City Council workers in Zimbabwe's capital began an indefinite strike on Friday, demanding to be paid in hard currency.

The strikers – including mortuary attendants and trash collectors – were reporting for work but would not perform their duties, said Cosmas Bungu, head of the municipal workers union in Harare.

"We can’t afford to continue to receive our salaries in Zimbabwe currency, which is not buying anything," Bundu said.

Last week, Zimbabwe’s central bank released a new 50 billion note in the country’s currency. It was worth only $1.25 on the black market.

Zimbabwe faces the world’s highest official inflation. The city workers join teachers, doctors, nurses and even bus drivers in demanding to be paid in US dollars or South African rand. State newspapers this week started charging in US dollars and even the Zimbabwe soccer federation has asked to be able to charge in hard currency.

The crisis comes amid a power-sharing deadlock that has left the country leaderless since a disputed March election.

The impact of the municipal workers strike may be muted because so many city services had already collapsed because of lack of materials or funds. Trash has been piling up and water treatment plants are crippled, contributing to a spreading cholera epidemic.

The UN said on Friday the number of cholera cases recorded since August reached 50 003 on Thursday. The death toll through Thursday was 2 773.

The UN said that despite a huge international campaign by aid agencies and donors, supplies of clean water are erratic, many cholera treatment centres lack food and medicine and Zimbabwean doctors and nurses struggle to get to work, in some cases because their salaries don’t cover bus fare.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, meanwhile, said its response was being hampered by lack of funds.

In December, the international Red Cross appealed for about $9m for what it expected to be a seven-month fight against cholera in Zimbabwe. Donors have come up with only about 40% of that.

"As it stands now, we won’t be able to continue our operations beyond the next four weeks," Tony Maryon, the head of the international Red Cross team in Zimbabwe, said in a statement on Friday.

– AP