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Fuel Crunch Brings Zimbabwe Road Transport To A Grinding Halt

Zimbabwe's national road transport system has ground to a halt as the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe, commonly known as NOCZIM, which was recently given a monopoly in the fuel sector, has shown itself unable to supply the nation.

Trade Minister Obert Mpofu two weeks ago declared that NOCZIM alone had the right to import gasoline and diesel fuel. But Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono and the business community have appealed to Harare to repeal the decree banning private-sector purchases in hard currency, warning this could finish off the economy.

But official sources said Mpofu remained adamant NOCZIM must retain a fuel import monopoly. Sources in the sector said that when the government assigned NOCZIM a monopoly it had 3 million liters in stock compared with 10 million in the private sector, reflecting the relative capacity of the state monopoly and the free market.

Before their exclusion, private sector operators were able to tap hard currency from the large Zimbabwean diaspora through various Internet-based coupon schemes whereas NOCZIM’s own efforts to establish such a system failed.

Zimbabwe has known fuel shortages before, but with its poor record of payment few offshore suppliers will do business with the state except on a cash-up-front basis.

Appeals by President Robert Mugabe to to friendly energy-producing countries such as Libya and Equatorial Guinea have yielded little in the way of energy supplies.

Harare economist John Robertson told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the current fuel crisis could last quite a long time.

Among many other Zimbabweans stranded by the transport crisis was VOA reporter Safari Njema, who described his three-day effort to get from Gweru to Harare.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...