Zimbabwe’s economic crisis under President Emmerson Mnangagwa has revived memories of the hardships of more than a decade ago when hyperinflation wiped out savings and pensions and forced the country to dump its currency in favour of the US dollar.
The demonstrations, including Zimbabwe’s biggest hospital in the capital Harare, come at a time COVID-19 cases are rising in the southern African nation, which has recorded 716 infections and eight deaths so far.
“The situation is bad and our cause is justified,” Pretty Gudza, a mother of four, told Reuters during the protest in Harare. “I cannot work for nothing, I have to eat and I have to be mentally healthy so that I can assist the sick.”
Nurses also gathered in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-biggest city, to demand better pay, said Enock Dongo, president of the Zimbabwe Nurses Union.
He said 12 demonstrators had been arrested in Harare, where a Reuters witness saw police detaining nurses.
Police spokesman Paul Nyathi said he was unaware of the arrests and would investigate.
Mnangagwa’s government announced a 50% salary hike for state employees last month and a $75 allowance for three months but workers said the increase was not reflected in their June pay.
Zimbabwe reintroduced its local currency last year after a decade of official use of the US dollar but the local currency rapidly lost value, sending prices rocketing and raising fears of renewed hyperinflation.
Zimbabwe’s inflation rate stands at 785%, one of the highest in the world, while businesses charge in US dollars and use black market rates to calculate prices in the local currency, making goods too expensive for many.
Last month, Zimbabwe suspended trade on the stock exchange and some mobile phone payments, which account for over 80% of all transactions, as part of efforts to arrest the local currency’s slide.