A street vendor works by candlelight and a cellphone in Harare, Zimbabwe, July 30 2019. Picture: REUTERS/PHILIMON BULAWAYO
A street vendor works by candlelight and a cellphone in Harare, Zimbabwe, July 30 2019. Picture: REUTERS/PHILIMON BULAWAYO

Harare — Zimbabwe’s government says it has started paying weekly disbursements of $890,000 (R13m) to Eskom to receive 400MW of power from SA’s power utility.

The deal is expected to ease Zimbabwe’s biting power woes, which have seen load shedding of up to 18 hours a day.

As a result of the rolling power cuts, several companies have closed down, leading to more misery for the country, whose economy is set to contract by 3% in 2019.

Addressing a post-cabinet briefing on Tuesday, information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said: “Cabinet was informed by the minister of energy and power development that an arrangement to unlock 400MW has been concluded with Eskom.

“In terms of this arrangement, government has commenced through treasury the payment of $890,000 per week towards settlement of its debt with Eskom.”

Mutsvangwa said Zimbabwe was pursuing a separate arrangement to secure power imports from Mozambique.

Zimbabwe has a bad record in servicing its debts to Eskom and only resumed its long-standing obligations to the SA power utility when its power crisis deepened.

Asked by journalists if Zimbabwe would not once again default on payments, energy minister Fortune Chasi said to date Zimbabwe’s government had deposited two installments to Eskom. “I am confident that we will be able to see through the payments,” he said. 

Chasi, however, said a fresh headache awaits the country as Zimbabwe’s major power plant, Kariba hydro power station, will likely shut down in September due to low water levels.

“The dam is at 23%,  leaving us with three metres of live water, which is the water that we use to generate power. We continue to pray that we can have rains that will provide sufficient power to generate power,” he said.

To make matters worse, Chasi said there is a high possibility that another drought will hit Zimbabwe in 2019, further dampening prospects of hydro-power supplies from Kariba.

Kariba hydro plant, which is located on the Kariba Dam, is Zimbabwe’s major source of power and generates 1,050MW at peak. But on Tuesday, an energy update from Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) showed that it was pumping just 217MW.

ZPC on Monday warned that water levels at Kariba Dam were so critically low that there will be a halt in hydro-power operations. “The minimum level is 475 metres and currently we are on 478 metres.

“If we keep on generating the way we are doing, by September we will actually shut down Kariba. There will be no power coming from there. So we need to manage it,” ZPC business development manager Bernard Chizengeya told an energy conference on Monday.