The announcement by the Zambezi River Authority, which runs the Kariba Dam, that Zimbabwe had used up its share of the water in the world’s largest man-made reservoir sounded a death knell to an already desperate power generation sector.
While Zimbabweans have known nothing close to a consistent supply of electricity for decades now, the situation was what could be described as stable.
But the country is now looking straight into the proverbial mire, with between 18 to 22 hours of total black outs across the country.
Initially attributed to frequent breakdowns at the old Hwange Thermal Station owing to the dilapidated state and lack of maintenance over the years, the lack of foresight in planning on the part of government has been laid bare for all to see.
As part of his campaign promises ahead of the 2018 general elections, President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised to rump up electricity generation in order to resuscitate an ailing industry and spur economic growth.
Riding on the goodwill he has accumulated over his daredevil overthrow of independence leader Robert Mugabe, Mnangagwa’s promises seemed to resonate with the ordinary people, but his promise card has turned into the butt of jokes for the Zanu-PF leader.
President Mnangagwa’s promise card and his picture with the comment “Zimbabweans do not listen to this guy. He does not work for ZESA (the public power utility),” sums up the derision with which ordinary citizens view the President.
The economy could not have asked for anything worse.
Mnangagwa has, according to some reports, threatened to switch off all domestic users as part of his raft of “solutions” to the crisis. The response from ordinary citizens has been nothing short of “go right ahead.”
A local butcher in the capital Harare was apt. “What are the authorities saying about the situation? I think for now we can safely say we do not have electricity at all. Why don’t they just switch off the national grid completely, tongoziva hedu kuti hatina magetsi,” said Muza, who works at a butchery in Mbare.
Muza said it has become difficult to run the butchery.
“We have cold rooms, but electricity is only available between midnight and 5 am. This means our refrigerators and cold rooms are not working properly. We are losing out on business because we are experiencing an extra cost to buy fuel to power our generators.
“At times we end up throwing away meat that would have decayed, so we are operating at a loss already,” said Muza.
A video of a distraught woman circulating on social media has citizens seething with anger. The voice of a woman is heard narrating how she has tried to make ends meet by starting a chicken project, only to be undone by the rolling blackouts.
Clever Dongo looking for clothes to buy using candles after the electricity was cut. Zimbabwe has been expiriencing serious power cuts over the years that people have resorted to using candles and firewood to cook in Harare, Zimbabwe. The political instability in the Southern African country has resulted in a serious economic down turn.
“Trying to survive in difficult Zimbabwe. My chicken project down the drain. I will try to dry the meat for my dogs. They will enjoy but as for me it’s the end,” she is heard saying resignedly.
A survey by this publication has revealed that the majority have reprogrammed their daily schedule to capitalise on the few hours electricity is available.
For instance, in Mbare, welders, grinding millers and those in the catering and printing businesses are now being forced to spend nights at work in a bid to use electricity when it is available. The place will be a hive of activities during the night and workers will spend the day sleeping and resting.
It was around 8am when the news crew went to Harare’s oldest suburb township, Mbare. The area will normally be flooded with ear-bursting noise as the industry would be busy with production of various goods on every other day before the crisis.
However, the situation is now different as many were seen sitting in their workshops doing nothing or packing their stuff away as they troop home after a night shift.
“We no longer sleep at home. As you can see, my colleague who is a welder is now asleep. He slept here to make use of electricity during the night because if we don’t do that our families will starve. Business has been down since they announced Kariba is drying up,” said a barber who works in Mbare.
Most home industries run on minimum costs because of their nature and in most cases, they are hand to mouth type of ‘hustles’.
In many instances, these small businesses feed families of up to six people. And there are thousands if not millions who rely on such income.
Zimbabwe’s economy is largely informal at least since the 2008 meltdown.
At household level, women bear the brunt of staying up to undertake household chores that require power.
“We only wake up to charge our cell phones and cook food for the next day. Alternatively, we use gas for cooking but it is also now expensive, so to minimise expenses we have no option but to wake up at midnight,” said Millicent Chimugomo of Mbare.
With the festive season approaching, business is usually booming but the current state has rendered it idle.
When this publication took to industries, most businesses that rely on electricity were just open but not operating. Some were optimistic that maybe they would get to work, but the current trend by the energy utility company shows no signs of slowing down in power disruptions.
“I also run a side hustle of charging cell phones. On a normal day I take home US$10 but now it is impossible. As you can see, the battery I use to charge mobile phones is only 10 percent full. It will soon die out and I will go home with nothing,” said the barber.
A miller said they are experiencing tough times.
“I’m literally out of business. My clients can only come during the day so when we have electricity during the night only, it means I cannot work,” he said. To counter the situation, he uses a fuel power mill and says it is unsustainable.
“Fuel is expensive and always going up. Buying fuel when you could simply use electricity means an extra cost,” he added.
The country’s capital city centre and industry has not been spared. Most buildings in Harare, including uptown buildings, now rely on generators for their elevators, lighting and power supply.
Walking downtown Harare is more stressful with roaring generators creating noise nuisance. Shop owners who do not own generators are forced to operate with hand held torches or without lighting.
Addressing journalists recently, Energy minister Soda Zhemu said government was working around the clock to fix the situation.
“The government is making an intervention. This is a crisis situation and we hope through that intervention, funding will be available to apply for the additional capacity which we are looking forward to having access to from our neighbours in the region,” he said.
The minister said the station will only be shut down completely during Christmas days and on other days it will be generating about 300 megawatts daily, pending a review of the water situation next year.
According to Zhemu, the current average daily demand is around 1600 megawatts against a total available capacity which is between 1250 and 1350 from both internal sources and imports.
Zimbabwe also relies on its thermal power station located in Hwange. The station has however become notoriously unreliable owing to poor maintenance as it is now old. Hwange is the country’s largest coal-fired power station with 920MW installed capacity.
The plant now produces less than half its capacity. Kariba is reportedly producing a 3rd and a country that requires 2000 megawatts of electricity is producing less than 600 megawatts and importing another 200 from neighbours who are also struggling.
It a pipe dream to electricity that Zimbabwe is working and Mnangagwa continues to promise. What remains to be seen is whether his promises will come to fruition. However, it’s not something anyone is willing to bet a dollar on.