The electricity situation in the country has been and still continues to be one of the most topical issues. On average most areas are experiencing 18-hour-long power cuts. It’s against this background that people are daily anticipating some form of intervention to water down the challenge. What makes the scourge of load shedding a painful one is because it’s one of the many economic challenges currently affecting the nation. Annual inflation has surged to 176% as the cost of basic services has shot up. Despite all this, basic salaries have remained either stagnant or have on average been increased by a paltry 10%. It’s also being reported that a staggering number of at least 4 million Zimbabweans have emigrated.
Kariba Dam Water Levels
So for several months now the issue of receding water levels at Kariba Dam has been talked about a lot. In fact, when plans to roll out load-shedding were announced it was mainly premised on the Kariba dam issue. There has been a widespread debate about this with most people disputing this claim as a lie. The issue of water levels at Kariba Dam is a factor but not the sole factor in our power challenges. It’s being reported that Kariba dam water levels are still dropping. The levels are now at 23% or 3m live water which allows for the generation of power. In principle, this simply means that the rectification of the water levels issue now rests solely on getting early rains this year. Many people feel that this mention of Kariba dam water levels is just propaganda.
What Has Brought Us Here Though?
Already I’ve mentioned that the Kariba dam issue is just one of the many causes. In fact, it has made it clear that sole reliance on Kariba for power generation isn’t wise. The other cause has been the huge amounts of money owed ZESA – at least US$1 billion. That debt has been built up by individuals, businesses, local authorities and government departments. This too has a hint of propaganda to it as ZESA is known for promptly dealing with defaulters. However, this has had a huge bearing on sustainable repairs, maintenance and expansion works which are now seriously lagging behind. We have also seen numerous cases of corruption at the power utility company from unreasonably high remuneration for top management to other issues that emerged from the recent Auditor General’s report. There were several cases mentioned of orders of equipment that were paid for but weren’t delivered – we’re talking of amounts getting into the millions of US dollars.
Power generation at Hwange Power Stations is reported to be way below 50% capacity. Reasons for this have mainly been foreign currency shortages that have made it difficult for plant repairs and maintenances to be done. Power stations in Munyati and Harare are also experiencing the same challenges. The other factor has been that of arrears owed to regional power utility companies from which the country has been importing power. Of notable mention is SA’s Eskom who have been owed around US$27 million dollars for quite some time. When you put all these issues together, not forgetting corruption, poor corporate governance and lack of serious consideration of alternative power sources you come up with the situation that we’re currently in.
Government Efforts To Address The Challenge
The major avenue government has been focusing on is engagements with Eskom on clearing the debt and unlocking more power imports from them. Roughly a month ago ZESA managed to pay US$10 million as part of its efforts to clear the debt owed to Eskom. About a week ago government managed to secure US$15 million from a local bank to go towards clearing off the debt. Through engagements with Eskom an agreement has been reached that we can receive 400 MW of power as a relief package.
This will happen on the condition that the government pays US$890 000 per week to clear the Eskom debt. As of now, 2 payments have already been made as confirmed by the Energy minister, Advocate Fortune Chasi. Information minister, Monica Mutsvangwa also highlighted that similar engagements will be done with Hydro Caborra Bassa of Mozambique. I’ve heard some people saying load shedding has somewhat eased in some areas so maybe things are relatively getting better as the government is saying.
If this exercise of debt clearing is done sustainably it’s quite noble. I would also prefer a scenario where all other avenues are explored in addressing power shortages. There have been waivers approved by the government on solar products which is also a good move. It’s also been reported that ZESA has started switching off defaulters from the grid which is also a good move. If this results in the recovery of the US$1.2 billion owed ZESA it is a crucial piece of the puzzle and must be pursued intently.