Zimbabwe’s Blend War

Harare, November 5, 2014 – Zimbabwe’s apex court, the Constitutional Court on Wednesday began hearing a case in which an aggrieved motorist is challenging mandatory blending of petrol.

Zimbabwe introduced mandatory blending of petrol with ethanol in 2013 in a desperate bid to reduce the cash-squeezed government’s fuel import bill.

But motorists in the troubled southern African country have been fuming over government’s decision to force them to use petrol blended with ethanol. 

Thabani Mpofu, a Harare resident and a legal practitioner petitioned the Constitutional Court early this year seeking a reversal of regulations that put motorists at the mercy of what he called an unjust system that robes people of the choice of the type of fuel best suited for their vehicles

Mpofu, who is represented by former Finance Minister Tendai Biti of Tendai Biti Law, a member of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, wants the Constitutional Court to declare as null and void two statutory instruments published in 2013 providing for the mandatory ethanol blending of petrol.

Under the regulations, government forced blending ratios of five percent ethanol and 95 percent unleaded petrol before increasing the ratio to 15 percent and 85 percent respectively. Government has now set a target of E20, meaning 20 percent ethanol and 80 percent unleaded fuel.

The Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority, the statutory regulatory body for the petroleum sector, is cited as the First Respondent and the Minister of Energy and Power Development Dzikamai Mavhaire is cited as Second Respondent. Green Fuels (Private) Limited is cited as the Third Respondent.

Green Fuels (Private) Limited, a joint venture firm between government and private investors enjoys the ethanol blending monopoly.

In his application, Mpofu argued that mandatory blending violates fundamental rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution. These rights include the freedom of choice and freedom of fairness.

Mpofu argued that the monopolistic nature of the regulations violated motorists’ right to freedom of choice and freedom of fairness as well as equal protection of the law.

He further argued that the government failed to conduct adequate research before imposing mandatory blending, noting that previous studies had showed blended petrol to be less efficient as well as harmful to certain types of vehicles.

Mpofu argued that Article 56 (1) of the Constitution guarantees his right to equal protection and benefit of the law. 

Zimbabwean authorities claim that the country spends $45 million each month to import fuel and hence the forced blending of petrol with ethanol will yield $4 million in monthly savings and lower exorbitant fuel prices.

The government has experimented with several options in an attempt to explore options to lower the fuel import bill including encouraging citizens to grow jatropha plants from which biodiesel would be extracted from. But the country’s search for sustainable energy faltered as the government backed project which was touted as the panacea to the country’s fuel shortages which worsened in 2005 collapsed.