ZESA Chapter 15 verse 11 reads: “What does it profit a man to own 3D LED screens, a fridge, microwave, DStv decoder, steam iron, washing machine and not own a generator?” while verse 12 has sound advice for such a person; “Repent for thy power is low!” These are some of the numerous jokes doing the rounds on Zimbabwe’s social media space these days as the country reels from a nationwide power crisis.
Another text message circulating reads: “At the rate at which power cuts are increasing in Zimbabwe we will soon hear that fathers are now demanding at least six generators for their daughters’ lobola (dowry) instead of cattle.”
These jokes about Zesa circulating via social media are a form of commentary and an expression of anger, even if vented light-heartly, shows that the issue of power shortages is currently disrupting business operations and normal life for majority.
Behind the jokes, Zimbabweans are restless as they are bearing the brunt of the worsening electricity shortages which have seen most households going without electricity for up to 18 hours daily.
Zimbabweans, who cannot afford alternative sources of energy, have been badly affected and want immediate solutions.
“The tight load-shedding is making it difficult for us to properly budget. You can’t buy perishable food in bulk because it is getting bad because of the long hours without electricity. We have to buy things like meat daily which is expensive and an inconvenience,” said Hilda Nyamapfeni from Warren Park D.
The long-suffering Zimbabweans have taken the issue to the social media to vent their anger.
“Why not close the company so that we are very sure that we are going back to the Stone Age where fire was the medium of energy?” wrote Dingani Sibanda, one of the many people who expressed disgust at the failure by the Zesa to supply adequate electricity.
The load-shedding has also hit Zimbabwe’s growing informal sector hard. Many chicken breeders are counting their losses as slaughtered chickens are rotting because of lack of refrigeration.
Informal traders who use electricity such as welders are spending hours on end without production. Some have resorted to working at night when power returns.
Formal business has not been spared either. A senior employee at the Bon Marche retail branch in Chisipite, Harare, revealed they spend between 40 and 45 litres of diesel an hour to power a generator when there is no electricity. Diesel at most fuel stations costs US$1,20 per litre, which means the shop spends close to US$1 000 on a day when there is 18 hours load-shedding.
Last week, the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) announced the summer load-shedding programme, which will see most residential areas receiving electricity between 10pm and 4am, during which time most people will be asleep.
The company announced it is experiencing increased power shortfalls “due to low water levels at Kariba Power Station, generation constraints at Hwange Power Station and limited imports”.
“The power shortage is being managed through load-shedding in order to balance the power supply available and demand,” said ZETDC in a notice to customers.
However, it has since emerged, that lack of proper planning and poor management of the Kariba Dam has resulted in the power cuts as both Zambia’s power utility, Zambia Electricity Supply Company (Zesco) and the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa), through its subsidiary Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC), burst their water usage ceiling by huge volumes resulting in an unprecedented decline of water levels in the dam.
According to a report titled Kariba Dam and Power Crisis: The Cost of Poor Management, Greg Mills, head of the Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation, says that excessive use of water by both Zesco and ZPC is the reason for the current major power crisis in Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Mills also outlines that Zimbabwe has been heavily relying on Kariba for power generation because of its failure to rehabilitate its thermal power stations, while Zambia has also been relying on Kariba to meet the growing demand for electricity, largely because of the growth of its economy.
For years, Zimbabweans have had to endure load-shedding and unscheduled power supply disruptions, forcing many residents and businesses to use other energy sources such as generators, liquified petroleum gas, wood and solar energy.
As it battles to find a solution to the perennial power shortages, government recently launched a solar energy campaign whereby electric geysers will be replaced by solar ones. The cash-strapped government has ordered Zesa to import the solar heaters from China, which is going to be an added cost to consumers who are already struggling to make ends meet.
However, many Zimbabweans feel government has failed the nation as it has not come up with new sources of power generation in the past 35 years, despite the country’s population having almost doubled from 7,2 million people in 1980 to more than 14 million. Zesa is still using more or less the same power stations to generate electricity.
It is only now after the power crisis that government is talking about other sources of energy. ZPC says it plans to set up a solar-powered electricity generation plant in Zvishavane in the medium to long-term.
Furthermore, government is pursuing the development of 300megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaic energy (PV) through ZPC, but the three projects are still at a tendering stage.
In addition, government has licenced four PV projects, which are at various stages of development. These have a combined capacity of 155MW. The licenced projects are Marondera-based De Green, Geo-base in Gwanda, Yellow Africa in Ntabazinduna and Bulilima-Mangwe’s Plum Solar.
Government, however, seems to be clueless on how to provide a short-term solution to the ongoing power crisis with President Robert Mugabe last week saying businesses should operate at night when power is available.
Energy minister Samuel Undenge said Zimbabwe will be a net exporter of electricity by 2018 by which time recently licenced independent power producers(IPPs) will be running at full throttle. The IPPs need US$10 billion for the projects.
Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce chief executive Takunda Mugaga said the power shortage is negatively affecting business as it makes the country unattractive for business.
Mugaga said the manufacturing sector would find it difficult to recover as long as the power crisis persisted.
He urged the government to ensure the availability of electricity if it is to succeed in its attempts to woo foreign direct investment.
“Generators have made energy costs 100% above the average charges, which means we are bound to experience a dragged recovery of the manufacturing sector,” he said.
“Investing in addressing the ease of doing business by concentrating on the one-stop-shop concept is futile for as long as one of the major drivers of the economy is unavailable, in this case electricity.”
Economist John Robertson said power shortages are going to benefit companies which offer alternative resources for electrical energy such as generators and solar equipment while the majority of Zimbabweans will suffer from the exorbitant costs.
“The country already has high costs of production which is why manufacturing has gone down, power cuts would further strain the few producing companies left,” Robertson said. “Considering the current situation of electricity shortages, government has to do more for its citizens, for example, it can exempt value-added tax or reduce it for all imported solar equipment.”
Robertson also said government should revise its priorities.
“Government is purchasing more luxurious vehicles for about 100 more people and yet the country is failing to pay money owed to Cahora Basa which when paid will see the country’s imports increase as Cahora Basa is currently limiting us,” he said.
According to latest figures published on the ZPC website as at October 6, Hwange is currently generating 349MW, Kariba 507MW, Harare Power Station 30MW, Munyati 22MW and Bulawayo 16MW, translating to a mere 924MW for the whole country against a local demand of 2 200MW.
Zesa spokesperson Fullard Gwasira said the ongoing electricity crisis can only improve if there were enough rains to raise the water levels at the Kariba Dam.
He said the power utility was waiting for the rainy season for improved water inflows and that would probably transform the current power situation.
The much-anticipated Batoka Gorge power project needs more than US$3 billion for the dam construction and hydro-power plant, which is expected to generate at least 2 400 MW.
According to the Africa Progress Report 2015, Power People Planet Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities done by Africa Progress Panel, chaired by former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, poor governance of power utilities was at the heart of Africa’s energy crisis.
“Governments often view utilities primarily as sites of political patronage and vehicles for corruption, providing affordable energy can be a distant secondary concern,” reads the report.