Power cuts strangle Zim businesses

2011-01-11 09:26

Harare - The little shop is lit by a single candle propped on the counter as shoppers step into the murky light out of the pitch-black darkness on the outskirts of Zimbabwe's capital.

It is a familiar scene for the shopkeeper: yet another blackout as the country's state electricity provider buckles under demand and pulls the plug to ease pressure on the overloaded power grid.

"It's almost about 12 hours a day. Maybe it's four times a week," said the 21-year-old of the power cuts.

"It affects us very much in business because customers cannot see our products that we are selling."

From forced silences on factory floors to hotel restaurants cooking on open fires, industry says the unstable power supply is crippling attempts to claw back from years of economic ruin.

"Its a killer," said Joseph Kanyekanye, president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries.

"We used to cry about the policy environment. But certainly the power issue in my view is the most critical issue of our time - we need to deal with it."

Increase in demand

Zimbabwe's power stations were built in the 1950s by its British colonial rulers and designed for a smaller population, with little capacity added since independence in 1980.

Current capacity is around 1 200MW, including imports, but the need is up to 2 200MW. Finance Minister Tendai Biti said in November that the 2011 budget set as target raising power generation to 1650MW.

Demand would likely reach up to 3 000MW if unhindered electricity were available, estimates Fullard Gwasira, spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA).

"The gap is obviously widening because the economy is not static," Gwasira told AFP.

"We are now witnessing an upsurge as the economy is now starting to recover - there is a huge increase in terms of demand which is not matched by capacity."

The utility uses load-shedding - cutting power supplies to certain areas - to ease network pressures, a policy that will continue until output is boosted.

Independent power producers

"We are introducing new capacity, it might not totally extinguish the demand but definitely new capacity is going to be introduced," Gwasira said.

The main Hwange coal-fired plant and Kariba hydro power station are getting a 900MW capacity boost that will cost up to $800m, he said.

Independent power producers are also being explored but Gwasira said a stumbling block was low power tariffs of 7.5c per kilowatt hour - against a regional average of 12.6c - which locals already find a strain.

Other options are direct energy imports with a ZESA tolling fee and offering consumers an uninterrupted supply at a premium, which has attracted few takers.

Zimbabwe has seen relative stability since 2009 due to a power-sharing government between President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Timely interventions

The adoption of the US dollar to replace the country's inflation-decimated currency was seen as pivotal in restoring economic confidence.

"Yet despite strong growth forecasts - 9.3c for 2011 according to Biti - Zimbabwean industry has been operating on average at 33% of its potential output."

"There was growth in 2009 but I think right now you run the risk of people losing the faith that you can actually sustain this growth if there are no timely interventions," warned industry group president Kanyekanye.

"Power and other utilities are enablers for this economy. So if you don't deal with those then the exuberance...that came through dollarisation, with the new government, with peace and so forth, may easily go away."

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.


24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts

Plant some seeds. Your innovative mind is on fire and your ingenious ideas may just be the seeds for future projects. You may meet...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.