As Zimbabweans slowly pick up the pieces from a decade-long multi-faceted crisis that can best be described in the context of bloody political episodes, hyper-inflation and topsy-turvy social interaction, what the people need at this point in time is a break from the past.
While people seem to have appreciated achievements of the coalition government in the last 24 months, albeit at a slow pace, it is the news of escalating prices and shortage of fuel that raises panic and alarm not only among technocrats but the ordinary man on the street.
Fuel shortages have far-reaching consequences which the people may never be ready for.
Zimbabwe has been experiencing fuel shortages since 2000, due to a combination of factors among them foreign currency scarcity, inept planning by the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe and poor international relations that have seen suppliers demand cash up-front.
In recent weeks the price of diesel has hit the $1,30 a litre mark while petrol is fetching anything between $1,40 and $1,49.
The country’s stocks have been on a decline in recent weeks as demand rose significantly in European countries due to the onset of the winter season.
There is always high demand for oil around this time from European markets as they experience freezing conditions and they use huge amounts of fuel for heating.
Should the demand and price of oil continue rising, Zimbabweans would have to pay more for their fuel.
Signs of fuel shortages started emerging just before the festive season with most small towns going dry.
In an interview with NewsDay on Monday, Motor Traders’ Association president Misheck Nyamupingidza said the current fuel shortages were a result of operating a cash economy.
He said local suppliers had to first sell the fuel they had in their stocks before they could place their next order hence the lack of fluidity in the fuel coming through the country.
“The increase in the price of fuel on the international market disturbs the whole supply chain,” said Nyamupingidza.
“What that does is that it leaves local dealers needing to top up each time they place a new order and with cash not readily available supply bottlenecks begin to emerge.”
He however said normal supplies were expected to begin next week when the more than 55 million litres currently being shipped are delivered into the country.
“The other challenge fuel suppliers are facing is that of transportation from Beira to inland Zimbabwe. There are wagon logistic issues that have to addressed .”
While petrol is somewhat available, it is the shortage of diesel that is worrying to industry.
Analysts fear if not addressed immediately the fuel shortage could slow down the pace of economic recovery as the wheels of industry might soon stop turning.
Industrialists say the fuel shortage now will have a devastating impact on productivity. Key workers are forced to spend hours on end in fuel queues to fill the tanks of private and business vehicles – leading to lost manhours that cannot be recovered and which hammer profit and turnover targets.
There are already worrying reports that the fuel shortage is affecting the movement of drive-in tourists and the operations of several tour and adventure companies at some of the country’s prime tourism destinations like Hwange and Victoria Falls.
While it has not been easy to rebuild confidence among international visitors, undoing the little that the country had managed to restore in a couple of years is far by the easiest and probably the worst thing that could happen to Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe Tourism Authority manager for Victoria Falls Patty Kateketa told local media that almost all the service stations in the resort town had run out of fuel.
“We are feeling the shortage of fuel in Victoria Falls as some fuel stations have run dry,” said Kateketa.
“This negative development has affected the business of tourism operators,” she said.
“As a result we are told that some operators are already contemplating importing fuel from Livingstone in Zambia or Kasane in Botswana.”
Energy and Power Development minister Elton Mangoma said supplies dropped towards the festive season as limited fuel was coming through to Beira.
“We have also experienced limited supplies from the onset of the cold spell in the Northern Hemisphere but we have managed to get supplies to other parts of the country.
“However, the situation is not serious because government had to source the commodity from Matola in Mozambique following limited supplies at Beira,”
Whatever the cause of the current situation, Zimbabweans need a quick remedy because they do not want the country to slide back to the 2008 era.