Ailing Zimbabwe reels as 18-hour power cuts bite
Most miners have been asked to import their own power, a move that could double their costs
Zimbabwe's power crisis deepened this week as load-shedding was extended to 18 hours a day.
Zimbabweans, already reeling from severe cash shortages, a 100% inflation rate and an intolerant regime now have access to power for only four to six hours a day. Mostly in the dead on night.
The power cuts reflect badly on the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose Zanu-PF party was re-elected on promises to end load-shedding.
The power crisis is yet another headache for the troubled Southern African nation that is in the grip of its worst economic crisis in 10 years.
Miners have been told to import their own power, pushing up cost of production.
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The hardest hit miners are small-scale players who in 2018 were regarded as the heroes of the economy after contributing more than 50% of gold output.
Small-scale miners’ spokesman Dosman Mangisi predicted a slump in production as most miners depend on the national grid.
“Our miners are struggling to work, we need urgent intervention from government to get special provisions for power supply.”
The country is also facing a shortage of wheat. Farmers say the power cuts have affected irrigation, dampening prospects of good harvests.
Many Zimbabweans say life is much harder under Mnangagwa, who took over from former president Robert Mugabe. During Mugabe's autocratic 37-year rule the economy collapsed.
Power utility Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) first introduced an eight-hour load-shedding schedule in May but power cuts were drastically extended this week.
Addressing a post-cabinet meeting on the power crisis, energy minister Fortune Chasi acknowledged the situation had spiralled out of control.
He said heavily indebted Zesa owes millions to Eskom.
“There is no miracle about it … the situation is dire. As a country we should have never allowed ourselves to get into this situation.
“We owe HCB (Mozambique) and Eskom $83m. I am not sure as to when the payment will be made,” he said, adding that huge debts owed to Zesa by local consumers compounded the problem.
Deputy energy minister Magna Mudyiwa at the weekend said the country was generating only about a third of its power requirements because of ageing equipment at its thermal plants and water shortages at hydro units.
“At Kariba, the water levels have gone very low and we are now generating only 358MW against the usual capacity of 1,050MW due to reduced water levels.
“At Hwange Coal Power station there are six units that are supposed to be working but only three are operating. As a country we are not generating enough power,” she said.
The power cuts are a glimpse of how corruption has fuelled the country’s economic crisis.
Last week Chasi fired the entire Zesa board for not acting on maladministration at the state company.
Zesa CEO George Chifamba and the company's top managers are facing charges related to dubious dealings with contractors. These include an alleged $5m payment to controversial businessman Wicknel Chivayo for a solar project that never materialised.
Another scandal involves Hwange Colliery, which supplies coal to Hwange thermal power plant. The coal company was suspended from the JSE and the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange last November after it was placed under administration.
At hearings into Hwange in Zimbabwe’s parliament in 2018, allegations of fraud and corruption were made by board members against the colliery’s management. Hwange’s debt to the government stands at $138m from $120m in 2018.
In yet another scandal the government in 2016 issued a tender for a 100MW diesel plant to supply power. But the tender winner, APR Energy, was replaced by Sakunda, a company owned by Kuda Tagwireyi, a Mnangagwa ally.
Reports at the time said Sakunda sub-contracted Aggreko, which had been a losing bidder, doubling costs in the process.