Zimbabwe eases tourism lockdown measures

Shingai Nyoka

BBC News, Harare

Zimbabweans protests
Zimbabwe's economy has suffered under the coronavirus lockdown

Zimbabwe has announced it will partially reopen its tourism industry, one of the sectors worst affected by a three-month long lockdown.

Restaurants were previously only allowed to serve take-aways. They will now be allowed to serve sitting customers but at only half of their licensed capacity.

National parks and local safari and hunting operations are now also allowed to reopen.

Zimbabwe’s economy relies heavily on international tourism, which generates close to $1bn (£800m) from the more than two million tourists arrivals each year.

The sector has been forced to close due to the coronavirus, with borders remaining closed except for returning residents. Tourism players will now focus on reviving domestic tourism.

Zimbabwe has recorded 574 cases of Covid-19 so far.

Limited mobile money payments allowed in Zimbabwe

Shingai Nyoka

BBC News, Harare

A customer is served at a kiosk that accepts EcoCash. Photo dated 2018.
Getty Images
EcoCash is the country's biggest mobile money operator

Zimbabwe's Central Bank has permitted limited transactions on mobile payment platforms but the stock exchange remains suspended over accusations of economic sabotage.

On Monday, EcoCash, the largest mobile payment company announced that individual transactions and bill payments would still be permitted.

Bulk money traders and cash transactions would however remain banned.

The stock exchange remains closed until further notice.

Mobile money transactions account for over 80% of the country's payments.

On Friday a government notice said suspensions would pave the way for investigations.

Zimbabwe's government accuses both the national stock exchange and mobile money companies of fuelling the black market currency trade and subsequent collapse of the Zimbabwe dollar, which was reintroduced last year to replace the use of foreign currencies such as the US dollar and South African rand.

Mobile payments have risen as a result of the shortage of physical notes. The service is used for daily transactions including to pay for school fees, utilities, salaries, goods and services.

Zimbabwe opposition officials freed on bail

Shingai Nyoka

BBC News, Harare

Opposition MP Joana Mamombe in a hospital bed
Opposition MP Joana Mamombe is one of the three women who allege they were tortured by state agents

After more than a fortnight in detention, a court in Zimbabwe has freed on bail three officials of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) charged with lying to the police.

The three women were arrested after they said they had been abducted and sexually assaulted by state agents in May following a protest over Covid-19 lockdown conditions.

The government, which in the past has been accused of abducting its opponents, says there are glaring inconsistencies in their statements.

The High Court set stringent bail conditions.

MP Joana Mamombe and two youth leaders are not allowed to speak to the international press or post on social media.

But the MDC says what is critical is that they have been granted bail. The three women have spent over two weeks behind bars.

The government says the alleged abductions are part of an orchestrated attempt to undermine President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government and it says it has mobile phone tracking and video evidence to prove that the officials were out in public at the time they say they were abducted.

No date for the trial has been set.

Read more:

Zimbabwe's fuel prices rise by 150%

Shingai Nyoka

BBC News, Harare

A petrol attendent in Zimbabwe - 2018
Getty Images
Petrol and diesel are often in short supply and queues at garages are a way of life

The price of petrol and diesel in Zimbabwe is to more than double with immediate effect, the country's energy regulatory authority has announced.

The increase of 150% comes a day after the Zimbabwean dollar fell by more than 50% against international currencies.

This happened after the central bank removed a fixed currency exchange rate in place since March, and introduced a weekly foreign exchange auction.

Zimbabwe has been plagued by fuel shortages for years, compounded by a lack of foreign currency.

In January 2019, violent protests broke out when fuel hikes of more than 120% were introduced.

The state crackdown at the time left more than a dozen people dead.

The Zimbabwe cancer patients left without treatment

Zimbabwe's only radiotherapy machine in the capital, Harare, has been broken down for several months, leaving many cancer patients without treatment.

Breast cancer patient Tendai Gwata told the BBC's Focus of Africa Bola Mosuro that technicians who would usually be flown in to fix the machine cannot do so because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Critics of the government accuse it of under-sourcing the health sector and the country's health minister was detained on Friday for alleged corruption.

There is a machine that is working in the country's second city of Bulawayo, which is about 450km (280 miles) from the capital.

But Ms Gwata says travelling for cancer patients amid the pandemic is not advised.

As a cancer patient trying to minimise the risk of having to travel unnecessarily and interact with too many people because of the Covid risk makes this even more difficult.

I'm feeling very hopeless at the moment, very very hopeless."

Ms Gwata has had to stop radiotherapy - meaning her treatment so far may not be as effective and her doctors are looking at an option of a mastectomy.

I have to plan about losing a body part that I had reconciled about not losing so its not a great place to be right now."

Listen to Ms Gwata's full interview:

Tendai Gwata shares her experience

Zimbabwean dollar devalues at first auction

Shingai Nyoka

BBC News, Harare

Zimbabwean dollar
Getty Images
This handful of cash will now get you markedly fewer US dollars than yesterday

Zimbabwe’s dollar fell against the US dollar on Tuesday as the central bank launched its first foreign currency auction trading system.

Since March the rate had been fixed at 25 Zimbabwean dollars to $1 to stabilise the currency but that has since weakened.

This was the first of the weekly auctions that the central bank plans to have to determine its foreign exchange rates.

The new system is supposed to bring “transparency and efficiency in the trading of foreign currency in the country”.

The Zimbabwe dollar has weakened considerably since its reintroduction last June, after a decade of using a basket of international currencies including the US dollar.

The US dollar is now back in circulation alongside the volatile local currency as part of Covid-19 measures to stabilise the economy and prices. Nurses and doctors are currently on strike demanding that their salaries are now paid in US dollars.

They rejected the government’s offer to pay a short term Covid-19 related allowance of $75 a month.

High annual inflation which peaked at 785% in May has eroded the value of most salaries.

Zimbabwe raises salaries by 50% as inflation spikes

Shingai Nyoka

BBC News, Harare

Civil servants in Zimbabwe demanding their salaries be paid in US dollars - November 2019
Civil servants have been wanting their salaries to be paid in US dollars as the new local currency is losing its value

Zimbabwe’s government says it will increase civil servants' wages in the light of economic challenges worsened by Covid-19.

The finance minister said that with immediate effect, salaries and pensions would be increased by 50%. These are paid using the local currency introduced last year.

In addition all civil servants will be paid a non-taxable “Covid-19 allowance” of $75 (£60) a month - to be paid in US dollars.

Pensioners will also get an extra $30 allowance a month - in US dollars.

These Covid-19 relief payments will be for a period of three months starting from June.

The cash-strapped finance ministry did not say how it would fund the increases.

The news comes as it was announced that Zimbabwe’s inflation rate had soared to 785%.

The government said in April it would give cash payments to one million households most affected by the coronavirus lockdown.

But some families expecting to receive the funds have yet to do so.

As part of measures to help deal with the economic crisis, in March the central bank also unbanned the use of US dollars, which was outlawed last year.

For 10 years, Zimbabwe used foreign currencies after scrapping its own in 2009 because of hyperinflation.