SA freight drivers' strike to affect Zim

HARARE - Zimbabwe's fuel, retail and tyre manufacturing industries are buckling under pressure from the freight workers’ strike in neighbouring South Africa.

Trade between South Africa and Zimbabwe hinges mainly on moving goods by road and accounts for 70 percent of Zimbabwe’s imports.

Industrialists in Zimbabwe warned that the country stood to lose as much as $100 million a day as a result of the truck drivers’ strike, which has affected the flow of goods through the Beitbridge Border Post — southern Africa’s busiest inland port.

Zambia, Malawi and Democratic Republic of Congo also use the Beitbridge Border Post to transport goods from South Africa.

Eric Bloch, an economist at H&E Consultancy, said a meltdown could occur in Zimbabwe in a matter of weeks unless the strike was resolved.

“Many of the service stations are fast running out of fuel and the strike has affected our exports to South Africa,” he said.

“The repercussions are very significant as the strike will bring everything to a standstill, a situation Zimbabwe cannot afford, given the shrinking economy.”

Lucky Mlilo, chairperson of the Association for Business in Zimbabwe, said the strike would result in increased congestion at the Beitbridge Border Post as the festive season rush began, placing the onus on the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority to find “possible solutions to the anticipated build-up at all borders”.

Kennedy Mandevani, managing director of Dunlop Zimbabwe, which sources all of its raw materials from South Africa, said the company currently had “reasonable supplies” but was concerned that, if the strike continued, they might not be able to satisfy the market.

The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe said that the strike had a positive effect, because in the short-term it had boosted factory capacity utilisation, currently at 52 percent, according to the industry and trade ministry.

“Ironically, if the strike persists it will afford a chance for capacity utilisation to improve as it has been severely affected by the sheer number of imports, especially in the retail industry,” the council’s executive director, Rosemary Siyachitema, said on Monday.

About 20 000 workers in the transport and freight sector downed tools last month demanding a wage increase of 12 percent for 2013 and 2014, more than the rate of inflation, which stands at five percent.

The employers’ body, the Road Freight Employers’ Association, was offering six percent and talks have deadlocked.

The South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) yesterday however, said negotiations had begun to end the three-week-long strike.

The discussions are key to resolving the wage impasse and come when Satawu has issued a seven-day notice of a secondary or sympathy strike which would draw in thousands of port, freight rail and maritime workers by early next week. - Business Writer

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