Power Crisis: Zimbabweans resort to firewood, plastic, gas unaffordable

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By Leopold Munhende

WITH a 15 to 19 hour load shedding schedule underway, massive hikes in prices of firewood and acute shortages on gas, some Zimbabweans have resorted to burning plastic to cook meals.

Barely a week ago, Energy Minister, Fortune Chasi promised Zimbabweans relief after government claimed it had paid US$10 million to South Africa’s power utility Eskom, triggering fresh discussion for a possible 400MW electricity relief supply.

Zimbabwe’s Zesa owes Eskom US$83 million, something that has been used by the country’s southern neighbour to stop supplies of power into Zimbabwe.

As fate would have it, Eskom at the end of last week dismissed government claims it had been paid or was in any discussions with Zesa.

“Eskom would like to state that no funds have reflected on its accounts for Zimbabwe’s outstanding debt as of 28 June at 1500hrs. This is in response to the announcement made in Zimbabwe and queries Eskom is receiving regarding this issue.

“Once Eskom has received the funds, we will then enter into further discussions with Zesa,” said Eskom group chief executive officer Phakamani Hadebe on Friday.

Officials in Zimbabwe had promised to issue a statement but none had come through to clarify the issue.

Ex-teacher Regional Madziwa said his family, like many in Harare and outside the capital, had given up hopes of ever enjoying normal power supplies in his home.

“We are being forced to exercise patience. When it comes to meals, we are eating once a day when power is restored. We just warm the meals and try to survive,” he said.

Madziwa attributed the country’s recurrent power challenges to government failure to invest in power generating equipment and infrastructure from the early years of Zimbabwe’s independence.

“A lot could have been done. We did not invest and now we are suffering because of that lack of foresight,” he said.

A vendor selling her wares along Kwame Nkrumah in central Harare bemoaned how citizens had been reduced to the indignity of picking up used plastic bags and bottles to use as fuel.

With a sense of resignation, the woman who refused to be identified poured her heart out, giving a graphic description of how bad the situation in the country is.

She summed it all up in a few sentences at the end of an unrestrained rant: “Power comes back in the middle of the night and are switched off in the early hours of the morning, we are suffering.

“When I get back home, I have to pick up plastics and burn them to make fire to cook, this country is on its knees.”

In the end the woman reminisces on the life she lived before independence and in the early years after the end of the liberation struggle, adding she felt sorry for the current and coming generations.

“I think my life was better if compared to the youths of today. They have no future to talk of. They are even failing to take care of us. Instead, we are now taking care of their children too,” said the woman.

Water levels at Zimbabwe’s major source of power Kariba Dam have receded to dangerous levels, forcing authorities to cut down on generation by 50% and compounding an already desperate situation.

Another Harare resident said most citizens are now looking to God for salvation.

“The life we are living without electricity is disgusting. We are just waiting for God…whatever he decides for us is ok.

“My wife used to go and fetch for firewood from a nearby forest but the forest is no longer there,” he said.

His friend walking with him added: “Firewood is now going for $10 a bundle, up from around a dollar. So using it is out of the picture because getting that $10 is a challenge.”

The local dollar has lost significant value over the past months from 1:1 at introduction to a height of 1:13 before the dissolution of the multi-currency system last week that brought rates down to as low as 1:5 between the US dollar and the local currency.