Dark days ahead for Zim

Several top Zanu-PF officials and cabinet ministers have been fingered for non-payment of electricity bills to the state-owned power utility, the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa).

This is at a time when Mozambique has threatened to stop power exports to Zimbabwe until a $90 million (about R700 million) debt is settled.

Zimbabwe imports the bulk of its electricity supplies from Mozambique’s Hydro Cahorra Bassa, and Zimbabwe energy officials warned this week that should Mozambique go ahead with the pull out threats—“the country would be plunged into darkness”. Public anger has mounted over how Zanu-PF officials and ministers have been allowed until now to go scot-free by Zesa, when since last year the power utility had embarked on a nationwide campaign to switch off all defaulters.

Edward Chindori-Chininga, the chairperson of a parliamentary portfolio committee on mines and energy development, told City Press that “they (Zesa) go on to disconnect electricity from ordinary people who owe little money and can genuinely not afford to pay up and leave the influential people. It’s an unacceptable situation”.

A policy crafted by Zesa last year empowers it to switch off customers who owe as little as $30 in the townships and $40 for those living in the low-density suburbs.

Christopher Mushowe, the Zanu-PF-linked governor of Manicaland, reportedly owes Zesa $145 000, while Justin Mupamhanga, the secretary for the energy and power development ministry, owes $20 000. Cabinet ministers’ electricity bills are said to each range between $20 000 and $100 000, accrued mainly from activity on their farms, mines and private businesses.

In an effort to quell anger over the issue, Energy and Power Development Minister Elton Mangoma, read the riot act to the Zanu-PF bigwigs and cabinet ministers this week.

“There are some members of Parliament (MPs) and cabinet ministers who are not paying and we will be switching them off because there are no sacred cows and that is the only way we can stop people from accumulating huge debts to Zesa,” he said.

He added, “I have to warn my colleagues that unless they give clear proposals that are acceptable about how they are going to pay the debts, they are going to be switched off. I am also taking this opportunity to tell MPs who do not sit in cabinet that they will also be switched off”.

Zesa is owed $400 million by creditors and although it increased electricity charges last September to improve service delivery, it has not been able to meet the country’s power supplies—with load-shedding still a strong feature of Zimbabwean society.

Zimbabwe needs 2 200MW of electricity per month, but is currently generating only 1 200MW of electricity from its two main power stations in Hwange and Kariba.

An additional 300MW and 200MW are generated from the Bulawayo and Harare power stations. Since 2011 the energy ministry has invited bids to allow private investors to help boost energy capacity in the country, with a key deal between Chinese and Indian investors to upgrade the Kariba Power Station at an estimated cost of $1 billion yet to materialise.

In the meantime, in view of the country’s energy crisis Zesa has encouraged its consumers to change their lighting to the energy-saving fluorescent bulbs to reduce power consumption.

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