By Leopold Munhende, Chief Correspondent
FOUR generators outside three tuck-shops noisily skid as if in a deliberate discord at Warren Park 1 Shopping Centre, Harare. Even one of the country’s biggest supermarket lines, Choppies has its own, just bigger and a tad bit quieter than the rest.
It is 4:45pm and over 50 imbibers mill outside a string of bars waiting for the FIFA World Cup Last 16 clash between Spain and African giants Morocco. The bars are their only hope of watching Chelsea star Hakim Ziyech on the night.
Going home would mean losing out on the not-to-be-missed clash, and with lightweights proving unpredictable at the Qatar edition no one wants to miss it.
Zimbabwe is currently in the middle of one of its worst ever electricity crises that has seen power utility Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) introducing a strict 18-hour load-shedding regime between 5am to 11pm in all residential areas.
Operations at Kariba Hydro-Power Station, the country’s main source of power, were halted during the last week of November due to low water levels, while Hwange Thermal Power Station which was built between 1973 and 1986 has constant breakdowns that have all but halted production at half of its units.
With matches kicking off at either 5pm or 9pm, soccer fans have been forced to crowd drinking spots across the country to follow the global showpiece alongside colleagues in other ‘better planning’ countries.
“Timing of the crisis is the worst; imagine throughout the year we had little problems with electricity. Just as we thought we would be able to watch the matches ZESA decides to switch off electricity for 18 hours which includes the two kickoffs,” said Ushe Masocha, whose Germany long exited the tournament.
“The load-shedding we are having to endure is painful, we have a timetable which they do not adhere to most times, and I then have to go to my friend’s place with hope his power is available.
“At times I watch it at betting halls because they do not ask a lot of questions.”
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Blaring Chinese-made speakers mean none of them get to hear commentator Peter Drury’s artistic description of proceedings and as the ‘new bourgeois,’ the ones with electricity generators and solar systems, go on and on about his use of diction those in the bar would just have to be content they watched Morocco’s miracle triumph.
At an average cost of US$180, generators are out of reach for most Zimbabweans who are already reeling from an economic crisis that has eroded their earnings in the two decades it has lasted. Solar systems are also in a similar range.
Only a privileged few can afford the ‘luxury’ in a nation where government employees are given less than US$100 as a salary.
Top civil servants might probably be part of the few that will watch it at home after government announced they will be getting US$14,000 worth of a solar station at their homes.
“Ordinary citizens cannot afford the luxury of buying solar stations or a generator, remember some of us are civil servants, earn less than US$100 and have little to spare on these as compared to those at the top,” said Lindile Ncube from Kadoma.
“A good solar station will take you back US$200 while a generator that can power your TV, decoder and probably fridge will cost an upward of US$300.
“You cannot imagine not hearing commentary from people such as Drury because you would be watching the game in a bar full of noisy drinkers and having to visit YouTube when you get to work the following morning to be updated on something trending.”
Ordinarily Zimbabwe produces 1,100MW of power from its various stations against a demand of 2 300MW at its peak. Except those which specifically applied with the intention to produce electricity for personal use, none of the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) licenced by the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA) are adding anything onto the national grid.
Exiled former cabinet minister, Walter Mzembi, last week confirmed a widely held belief that tenders for independent power producers (IPPs) were corruptly handed out by government.
Independent Power Producer Licences awarded to the least deserving highly connected individuals are partly responsible for this energy crisis not just in Zimbabwe but in the Region . They are blackmailers of national interest ! Major Audit required ! pic.twitter.com/wi399sooKI
— Dr Walter Mzembi (@waltermzembi) December 6, 2022
With some bars either to dingy to enter, and others charging to watch the World Cup, some fans are surviving on WhatsApp updates, Twitter and Facebook posts of those celebrating their opportunity to watch the matches or just giving friends updates.
“Without electricity and definitely without data we have had to rely on WhatsApp updates in football related groups for score lines, results and post-match comments by players and managers,” said one teacher who preferred anonymity for fear of victimisation.
“Those with data are better because they can either stream the matches on different platforms that have been shared during the tournament or follow the matches on Facebook and Twitter.”
There will not be any change, none of those watching football at pubs in urban areas, clubs in the ghetto, bottle-stores in certain spots and growth points in rural areas will get a chance to catch a match in the comfort of their own couch if they have one.
Though their Warriors are banned from taking part in any FIFA related activity, the solidarity with their African brothers is unwavering, matches involving Ghana, Tunisia, Senegal, Cameroon or Morocco were always well subscribed.
Despite the crisis, bar owners told NewZimbabwe.com the power challenges were not just a boon for their business but an opportunity to offer a service far more important to their patrons compared to alcohol.
Hundreds flock to these spots, some of which are cropping up in Harare’s ghetto.
The imaginative few with dollars to spare are joining hands in fuelling generators and beaming matches through a projector.
Government last week conceded failure and played on hope in a message shared by spokesperson Ndabaningi Mangwana.
“The power cuts are causing distress, inconveniences and cost to the citizenry and business. This is regrettable. The challenge is affecting part of our region,” said Mangwana.
“Government is seized with implementing immediate mitigatory measures to bring normalcy. We thank you for your patience.”
Power generation in Kariba is expected to normalise at the end of January 2023. Hwange will always be Hwange, a sickling which is being forced to play with the big boys while contributions by IPPs might just fall into the growing list of Zimbabwe’s pipe dreams.