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Load-shedding set to spread

Augustine Mukaro

WIDESPREAD load-shedding is looming as Zesa fails to meet a one-month deadline set by South African power supplier Eskom for it to settle its debts.

Eskom last month granted Zesa a lifeline after it failed to meet a March 22 ultimatum which prompted Hydro Cahora Bassa (HCB) of Mozambique to cut supplies to the heavily-indebted power utility.

HCB’s reduction of power to Zesa has resulted in the current load-shedding.

HCB, which was supplying Zimbabwe with up to 250 megawatts a month, suspended supplies after March 22 demanding an immediate payment of US$5 million while Eskom wants R11,2 million.

“We shall advise that under current circumstances of non-payment by Zesa, we shall reduce your power level to zero megawatts from the 22nd of March 2003,” HCB had warned before curtailing supplies.

Officials at Zesa said Eskom then agreed to supply the Zimbabwean power utility with reduced energy for a month while it fulfils the conditions in the March ultimatum.

“The reprieve only applied for the month of April giving Zesa time to put their house in order and come up with a convincing payment plan for the future,” Zesa officials said.

Officials said widespread load-shedding had been avoided because Eskom had not effected its threat following the visit of a high-powered South African delegation to Harare.

Eskom, which had resorted to increasing tariffs for exports to Zimbabwe whenever it failed to pay, has also threatened to switch off Zesa.

Zesa faces serious difficulties in renegotiating new supply contracts if the current contracts are terminated for non-payment and capacity taken to other countries.

Zimbabwe used to import about 55% of its electricity needs from Eskom, HCB, and Snel of the Democratic Republic of Congo but the percentage was reduced to 35% last year because Zesa failed to service its debts.

Zesa power stations throughout the country are operating at below 50% capacity due to shortages of foreign currency to buy spares parts.

Zesa spokesman Daniel Maviva had not responded to written questions on the matter at the time of going to print.

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