LARGE swathes of Harare have been in darkness since Tuesday as Zesa’s ability to generate and import power has plummeted due to failure to service
debts and foreign currency shortages.
Two thirds of the city is thought to be without power causing massive losses of refrigerated food, something most households can least afford to sacrifice.
The power outages which hit the greater part of the low-density suburbs, including the Avenues and northern and eastern suburbs, were worsened by vandalism of distribution cables which the state-owned utility cannot replace because it is broke.
The outages, which had been mainly restricted to residential suburbs this week spilled into the city centre bringing to a standstill operations at the Passport Office and private hospitals while business at suburban shopping centres has been badly affected.
The loss of power had by yesterday started affecting water supply in parts of the northern suburbs as booster pumps could not function. A source at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals said the giant institution, the country’s largest referral centre, did not have power on Tuesday resulting in the postponement of operations. Operations at the Avenues Clinic and Baines Avenue Maternity Hospital were also adversely affected by the power loss. Embassies and United Nations agencies offices in the Belgravia and Alexandra Park areas were also without power.
Zesa faults department has told consumers in Braeside, Cranborne, Eastlea and Hatfield that it may take a “few weeks” to replace vandalised transformers and cables. Old people’s homes in the areas affected were also hard hit. Many such homes forbid the use of candles or gas for safety reasons.
Internet service provider Mweb — based in Avondale — yesterday informed its clients that it was cutting off browsers at night as the company could no longer afford to run its diesel generator at night.
Zesa’s official explanation has been that an increase in theft of cables and vandalism of substations has resulted in a number of substations catching fire at a rate which the power utility cannot cope with.
However, sources within the power utility said equipment breakdowns and theft problems were minor factors. The current shortages, they said, were mainly due to problems caused by reduction of generation capacity and reduced imports due to unpaid debts. They said instead of increasing electricity generation capacity, Zesa was closing some of its thermal power stations because of its failure to procure spare parts due to lack of foreign currency.
“Over the past two months Hwange Thermal Power Station has not been generating any electricity,” a source said.
Mozambique last month reduced power exports to Zimbabwe citing unpaid debts. The supplies to Zimbabwe were reduced from 300 megawatts to 195 megawatts over a staggering debt of US$35 million, forcing Zesa Holdings to increase load-shedding by 50 %.
Zesa acting spokesperson Shepherd Mandizvidza on September 29 confirmed the debt has resulted in the reduction of power supplies from Mozambican power utility Hydroelectrica de Cahora Bassa.
Mandizvidza on that occasion said Zesa had engaged HCB of Mozambique with a request to access
300MW, up from 150MW. In
principle the deal was agreed on but is currently being thwarted by the increasing debt, now over US$35 million.
Zimbabwe imports 40% of its power needs: 100 megawatts are from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 300 megawatts from Mozambique and up to 450 and 300 megawatts from South Africa and Zambia respectively.
Power supplies have become erratic with blackouts lasting more than 10 hours. Families are unable to cook or bathe and perishable goods are being lost to the crisis at a time when Zimbabweans are running short of money and food.
As of yesterday Zesa officials were saying the blackouts may persist into next week.