Matshela Koko. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA/FINANCIAL MAIL
Matshela Koko. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA/FINANCIAL MAIL

Harare — Zimbabwe has awarded controversial former Eskom acting CEO Matshela Koko a deal to build a 100MW solar power plant, with energy minister Fortune Chasi saying Harare is not concerned about allegations involving Koko at SA’s power utility.

Reports in March said Koko had been accused of promising Swiss-based engineering giant ABB future contracts worth R6.5bn if it subcontracted work at the Kusile power station to Impulse International, a company partially owned by his stepdaughter, Koketso Choma. 

The company is one of 11 international engineering giants said to be under investigation by the Special Investigating Unit for their role in the looting of about R139bn during the building of Medupi and Kusile power units.

Both Koko and Impulse International's Pragasen Pather have since denied the allegations.

Zimbabwe, which is experiencing power outages of up to 18 hours a day, is desperate for new investors to add power to the national grid.

Another solar plant project that was earmarked to be built in Gwanda, Matebeleland South, stalled after allegations that funds were misappropriated at Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) and controversial businessman Wicknell Chivayo.

Matshela Energy's solar power plant will be built in Gwanda. The licence is for 25 years.

In an interview with Business Day on Monday, Chasi confirmed the government’s deal with Koko. He said his country was going to benefit from the investment.

“What is important about this deal is that Matshela Energy has the requisite expertise in energy given its experience in South Africa. We need investors in our country, more so in energy because we are in a crisis.

“This deal is good for us because Matshela Energy will bring in an investor from the US. So our country is going to benefit and the people in that area are also going to benefit through employment and development.”

Asked if Harare trusted Koko, Chasi said: “The difference between Koko and Chivayo’s contracts is that the South African company will raise private funding for the power plant, while Chivayo was paid through Zesa.

“So Matshela Energy is going to invest money into this project. It is going to be a BOT (built, operate and transfer). So government is not going to pay a cent but it is leaving everything in the hands of the investors and if Matshela fails to deliver, it will be their own baby,” said Chasi.

Koko could not be contacted by Business Day for comment on Monday. A post on his Twitter account shows him celebrating the deal.

“Matshela Energy brings to the region a 100MW Solar PV power plant with 240MWh of battery storage. I was forcefully diverted to my destiny by president @CyrilRamaphosa & @mgigaba. Little did they know they were pushing me to greater heights,” he tweeted.

In a notice published by state media, the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority said the licence granted to Matshela Energy would expire in 2044.

“The generation licence is hereby granted to Matshela Energy Private Limited in terms of Section 42 of the Electricity Act to own, operate and maintain the 100MW solar plant, called the Matshela Energy-Gwanda Timber Farm Solar Plant, at Gwanda Timber Farm for the purpose of generation and supply of electricity.

Last week, Zimbabwe’s government said it would order all new construction projects in the country to include solar, while it also removed import duties on solar energy-related products to promote alternative energy.

Some Zimbabwean companies have shut down plants or down-scaled operations as a result of the severe power cuts.

On Monday, the country’s largest mobile network operator Econet warned of “drastic measures” if the power cuts are not addressed, adding that the persistent blackouts had left its “operations unsustainable.”