Zimbabwe’s economy yesterday ground to a standstill as a civil service strike action and protests by citizens forced banks and other businesses in the country to close shop.
The strikes crippled public transport, with most schools closed for the day and WhatsApp connectivity only being restored shortly before noon.
The business sector and economic activity suffered the heaviest blow as protests escalated over government corruption, delayed civil servants salaries and police roadblocks.
“The bank did not open for business today. The situation is too risky so the managers deemed it unfit to open,” a guard at a Standard Chartered branch in Harare’s Newlands suburb told Business Report just after 2pm.
Other banks in Harare, such as Stanbic, were also closed. Stanbic said this week that it would start restricting cash withdrawals for individuals at $100 (R1 469) a day while other banks already limit transactions to $200 or $300.
Trade on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE) remained lukewarm for the better part of the day with the industrial index adding just about 0.87 points on gains from Delta Corporation and Econet Wireless – the most resilient stocks on the ZSE.
The mining index was unchanged as investors weighed their options, with all counters under the index remaining unchanged.
There was little activity in Harare’s central business district although supermarkets, such as Pick n Pay and OK Zimbabwe, remained open throughout the day.
Some markets and informal trade centres were closed, while others were open as confidence quickly evaporated.
Instant messaging application WhatsApp was terminated from the early hours yesterday with subscribers on the country’s three networks – Telecel, Econet Wireless and NetOne – not able to access the application.
Econet confirmed to its subscribers via Twitter that WhatsApp was down and updated just before noon that it was now accessible.
Experts in the telecoms industry, however, were uncertain as to what had caused the outage.
“Econet would like to confirm that WhatsApp is currently down. We will notify you once it is working again,” Econet tweeted to its subscribers through its customer care department earlier yesterday.
The WhatsApp downtime caused discomfort among Zimbabweans, with some rushing to social media to accuse the government of blocking access to curb the spread of the protests.
“Our members have been affected and the stayaway and strike action has caused disruption to business for our members such as service stations, banks, shops and other traders. There is widespread fear that businesses and infrastructure could be destroyed in the protests,” a business leader told Business Report late yesterday.
Church leaders in Zimbabwe have blamed the government for its heavy-handedness in dealing with protesters and urged the state to lift import restrictions that sparked protests in Beitbridge at the weekend.
The church leaders want corrupt government officials to resign and they have also said funds being spent on officials staying lengthily in hotels should be used to pay teachers and headmasters, who are part of the striking government workers.
“Some of the country’s leaders are known to have stayed at luxurious hotels at… more than $300 000. This amount can pay 300 headmasters countrywide in a month and over 1 000 teachers in a month,” the church leaders – under Habakkuk Trust, Christian Alliance and Southern region Church Leaders – said in a joint release.
Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko and three other senior government officials have been staying in hotels pending the finalisation of their official residences for over a year.