May 19, 2012, 11:03 am
Dear Family and Friends,
Bleary eyed and feeling distinctly second hand, Zimbabwe is stumbling into winter 2012. At first a cheer went up when we heard news that ZESA (the electricity supply company) were going to introduce nine hour a day power cuts. The cheer was because when they made the announcement we were already having power cuts that lasted for at least twelve hours a day. So we stupidly thought the nine hour announcement meant supplies were to be shared more equitably and we would actually gain three hours of power every day. Maybe we’d even be spoiled and be able to boil a kettle or have a hot bath we thought, in a delirious, heady moment.
ZESA said it could only meet half of the national demand during the country’s winter months and that only major hospitals and what they called ‘strategic facilities’ would be spared from prolonged power cuts. Despite saying they could only meet half of demand, our dream that we would get electricity for half of every day turned out to be an hallucination. The very day after their nine hour statement, the extended power cuts started in earnest and have now settled into a pattern. At 4.30 or 5 in the morning the electricity goes off and stays off until 10 pm at night leaving us without power for at least seventeen hours a day.
Hardly had ZESA finished making their nine hour statement, then we heard the bad news from Mozambique’s Cahora Basa hydroelectricity company. They said they were considering reducing or suspending electricity exports to Zimbabwe altogether because we owe them a staggering eighty million US dollars. Predictably no electricity means that water can’t be pumped and so water out of a tap has become a luxury that lasts for three hours twice a week if we are very lucky. And so, as we did in the worst years of Zimbabwe’s crisis between 2005 and 2008, we have gone back to waking up in the middle of the night in order to charge batteries, cook food, and, if we can stand it, do the ironing – assuming we’ve been able to find and spare the water to wash clothes in the first place.
In an interesting labour court case recently, one man challenged his employers who had deducted pay from his salary for the hours that had not been worked because there was no electricity. It’s a situation familiar to multiple thousands of people who work in industries and businesses that depend on electricity for production. Workers are being penalised for ZESA’s failure and the reductions in people’s wages is having a ripple effect on families, on their buying power and ability to pay school and medical fees. The labour court President ruled in favour of the company, saying that if the courts ruled in favour of employees it could have the effect of causing companies to close down. She said the labour courts needed to come up with judgements that compensated employees but did not prejudice other employees or the company itself. The answer seems to be staring us in the face: ZESA must be held to account and compensate millions of Zimbabweans prejudiced by their failure to produce the service we pay them for. It’s a crisis where companies, schools, institutions and individuals are forced to buy and run generators at huge, unbudgeted costs, as well as fuel, batteries, invertors and charging equipment if they are to stay functional. Obviously they then have to increase their prices in order to cover these expenses but can’t increase their wages and so the spiral grows.
The weirdest thing about these massive electricity cuts is that when you do manage to catch up on what’s been happening in the country it’s the same old fights still dragging on: missing diamond money; the wrangles and scandals over a proposed visit by religious ‘prophet’ TB Joshua who had previously predicted the death of an ageing African leader; the political in-fighting within Zanu PF, their politburo and their district party elections; the endless political fighting over the ‘almost but not quite’ finished draft of our new constitution, excerpts from which keep getting leaked to the press and trashed before the finished document has even been released.
All of this provides a thick smoke screen for the national fury over the electricity crisis that is crippling productivity and growth in the country. It’s a smoke screen in which the very people who ran the ZESA parastatal into the ground, did no maintenance and rewarded themselves massive salaries, allowances and perks have got away with it all. It’s the same smoke screen which obscures and protects the very people responsible for the near or complete collapse of countless parastatals around the country from railways to airlines, water to roads and everything in between.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.
Copyright Cathy Buckle.
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