HARARE residents are up in arms against the national power utility, the Zimbabwe Electricity Authority (Zesa) following increased load-shedding, which has seen many going for hours without electricity.
REPORT BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
The power utility has in the past two weeks intensified power cuts in most suburbs of Harare, triggering an uproar among residents who have since turned to paraffin and firewood for lighting and cooking.
Areas including Mabelreign, Dzivaresekwa, Budiriro, Eastlea, Parktown, Belvedere and Glen Norah A and B have been going without power from 5am to around 9pm.
Harare’s Central Business Centre (CBD) has also not been spared, with some leading supermarkets complaining about prolonged power cuts that have seriously affected their business operations.
On Thursday, a supermarket at Joina City in Harare was confronted by angry customers who failed to get their lunch due to the power cuts.
A senior employee at the supermarket said power had been switched off on Wednesday night and continued into Thursday.
Alternative power from a generator was erratic, as it kept on switching off, plunging the whole supermarket into darkness.
“This is poor business conduct. This shop gets a lot of money, but they are failing to have a sound back-up power facility. What kind of a service is this?” a disgruntled customer said.
Some residents said they were surprised that the power cuts came soon after elections when there are talks that some politicians wanted Zesa to scrap all debts dating back to February 2009, when the country started using multiple currencies.
Speculation is now rife that the load-shedding could be an act of resistance on Zesa’s part to the slashing off of bills, as directed by some senior government officials.
Vice-President Joice Mujuru has vigorously campaigned for the scrapping of the bills, as has been done with council water bills.
“It is too much of a coincidence that soon after the announcement by some government officials that Zesa should also follow suit and write off bills, there is sudden load-shedding all over,” said a pensioner from Milton Park.
However, Zesa spokesperson, Fullard Gwasira dismissed the allegations as baseless.
“We are concerned about the sad and unfortunate reports in the media suggesting that the current load-shedding regime is deliberately being undertaken to sabotage the economy. This perception is sadly incorrect,” said Gwasira in a statement.
He said the load-shedding was necessitated by the loss of four units over the past two weeks at different times, which reduced output from 700MW to 200MW.
Gwasira also said the situation was compounded by depressed reduced imports due to plant maintenance from Hydro Cahora Bassa in Mozambique.
Residents turn to gas for cooking
As the power crisis continues, residents have had to seek other power alternatives.
A woman from Eastview Gardens, Thembi Mhlanga said she had to buy a gas stove, as she has two young children who need to be fed constantly.
“This is an unwelcome expense which I had not budgeted for,” said Mhlanga. “I had already paid for electricity for the whole month and now I have to fork out extra money to buy a stove and the gas.”
Some unscrupulous businesspeople are however capitalising on the situation and have hiked prices of alternative sources of power like gas, paraffin and even firewood.
Previously, gas used to cost between US$2,50 and US$2,80 per kg but now fetches between US$3 and US$ 3,50 per kg.
At Meyrick Park Service Station gas is now being sold at US$3 up from around US$2, 50.
Some opportunists are now even selling gas from their backyards.
Concerns have however, been raised by neighbours who feel that it is not a safe business to conduct at homesteads.
At a house in Haig Park, a man has turned his backyard into a thriving business selling gas.
Prospective customers could be seen milling around the house but when Standardcommunity tried to inquire if the business was registered, one of the attendants became aggressive and asked the crew to leave.
However, watching from a distance, people could be seen going in with their gas tanks and leaving a while later with their tanks full of gas.
One such customer, who only identified herself as Eleanor, said she has always bought gas from that house.
“This is where I buy my gas, but they had stopped because we had been having regular power supply in the past months,” she said.
Firewood has also gone up with a bundle of a few logs now costing US$2. It used to cost a dollar.
For those who use gel stoves, two litres of gel in leading supermarkets is being sold at US$5,70 and would normally not last for more than two days.