IN the past few weeks, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has devoted significant time informing his ruling Zanu PF supporters that power blackouts, which have badly unsettled industries in the past year, have been addressed. Hwange thermal power station has bolstered output following the US$1,4 billion upgrade funded by the Chinese government.
A marked improvement in power being routed to domestic and industrial consumers has been experienced, with blackouts being slashed as an additional 600MW flows. This has been a relief to industries, which feared in February that at the rate at which power cuts were frustrating production, the economy would lose close to US$5 billion by the end of this year.
The three-year long Hwange expansion project became one of Mnangagwa’s biggest achievements since ascending to power in 2017.
But it has not decisively dealt with the power crisis, as seen through pockets of blackouts that still haunt communities. This is understandable though that a man who locks horns with Citizens Coalition for Change leader Nelson Chamisa in a key election next month has been tempted to sugar-coat some of his statements.
He knows that the increasingly alert Zimbabwean electorate has to
rate him high, or he kisses the presidency good bye. But statistics from government indicate that Zimbabwe is still facing perilous times.
National power utility, Zesa Holdings is currently transmitting 1 850 megawatts (MW) to the market, which is exactly what domestic and industrial consumers require for now. In our interview with Gloria Magombo, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Power Development this week, she said included in this figure are imports. She does not indicate the levels of power flowing from the region. But her insights demonstrate that for now, power being generated internally falls far short of national requirements, even at those levels of 1 850MW.
The hurdles ahead become clearer if one considers that by the end of this year, the Zimbabwe Investment Development Authority projects to register up to US$4 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) commitments.
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This figure is almost double what Zimbabwe generated last year. The bulk of these deals will be directed to the power intensive mining industry, where the country has been grabbing global headlines following its lucrative lithium finds. Billions of dollars are also being invested into chrome, which requires massive amounts of power to operate, while gold mines are also ramping up production.
In addition, up to 300 000 domestic consumers are on Zesa’s waiting list for new connections. Magombo said an additional 3 000MW to 4000MW would be required as demand, expected to rise to just under 2 050MW in a few years, rises.
Whoever wins next month’s general elections must hit the ground running because Zimbabwe is already running behind time.
For this economy to recover, there has to be a guaranteed supply of reliable power. Otherwise, Zimbabwe will continue to suffer perpetual setbacks, including low capacity to create jobs, if authorities bury their heads in the sand.