Angry load-shed Zimbabwe residents 'snitch' on neighbours with power

Harare - What happens when you're not getting load-shed, but your neighbour in Zimbabwe is? He reports you to the authorities, of course.

Zimbabwe's 18-hour power cuts are, sadly, a well-known fact of daily life for many, blamed by President Robert Mugabe's government on low water levels in Kariba Dam and a lack of meaningful investment in power generation for nearly three decades.

The cuts hit the well-off and the not well-off, bringing the best laid plans to nought (as they did on Monday night, when a major power cut hit Harare, knocking out even the main hospital, according to claims on social media).

There's just one thing. Not everybody is load-shed. Some are inexplicably spared, luxuriating in electricity all day and every day. That makes their neighbours, chomping through their diesel supplies for the generator or buying extra candles as their load-shedding stretches grimly into the night-time hours, very angry.

This month irritated readers of the Bambazonke e-mailing list have been trying to collate the details of Harare residents who have been spared power cuts in a move described as "busy-bodying" by one well-known journalist and author.

"I visited ZESA [Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority] head office this morning to try get an answer regarding a more equitable distribution of load-shedding," wrote Bambazonke reader Mick.

The official "asked that we put together details of street addresses [of those] who are not getting continuous load-shedding."

"They will then approach national control centre with these details in an attempt to rationalise the situation," the reader wrote. Enthusiastic readers appear to have written in with the details as the moderator of the site then posted: "We have now had enough emails... to go along to ZESA and present a case."

Author Angus Shaw wrote on his blog this week that the collection of the information on those still getting uninterrupted power was "one of the more despicable aspects of the power crisis".

"Neighbourhood busybodies are collecting details of blocks of streets that seem to be getting more power than their own," he said, asking if residents had become "snitches like those used by the former East Germany’s hateful Stasi secret police." Shaw said he had installed solar power at his own house.

There are some areas that are almost never load-shed: hospitals, the area around Mugabe's official State House residence and army barracks (though these too have been warned their load-shedding-free status may not last forever).

Some Harare residents' uninterrupted access to power has also been the subject of social media teasers. Zimbabwean lawyer @ooeygooey tweeted last week: "A riddle: I have lived in Harare for 8 months and have never experienced a power cut. In which part of Harare do I live?"

"U live under a solar...light," joked @ChrisGundu in response.

The state-controlled Chronicle newspaper reported this week that ZESA had sent engineers to India and Italy as it steps up plans for an "emergency power plant" to be constructed in the eastern city of Mutare in the next 18 months.

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