Gruelling power cuts

zesaDear Family and Friends,
The one non-political word most likely to cause animated, angry outbursts in Zimbabwe is 'Zesa.' Officially the acronym stands for Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, more appropriately it is known as Zimbabwe Electricity Sometimes Available.

We’ve now had three grim, gruelling weeks of power cuts where the lights go out at 4 or 5 in the morning and stay off until 9 or 10 at night – every day of the week and weekend. Normal functioning has become almost impossible. Food bought with precious US dollars is going rotten in silent fridges; geysers are cold and there is no way to put a single hot meal on the table as Zesa is non existent at breakfast, lunch and supper times.

Only receiving a few hours of power in the middle of the night we expected our bills would have reduced by three quarters but this isn’t happening. Business and residential areas alike, Zesa bills continue to be more than most people earn in a month. Unexplained and incomprehensible is how you go from having a credit balance one month to owing US$700 or 800 the next. Small businesses already struggling to stay open are getting bills ranging from US$5,000 to 12,000 a month. It’s become commonplace to get home and find you’ve been disconnected or, in my home town, to find that Zesa employees have actually physically removed MCB’s (Mains Control Boards) from your house.

The worst comes when you emerge from a 16 hour power cut, cold, tried and hungry. The lights flicker once, twice and then stay off again – it’s a fault on the line. Even though Zesa have a 24-hour fault service, they say they no longer attend at night, or before 8am in the morning, and so you wait. By the time they go looking for a fault (after you have picked them up in your car and driven them round and round) and they have effected the repair, you still don’t get anything done as you are back into the standard 16 hour power cut. If there is more than one fault on the line then you can go on like this for days, staggering from power cuts to faults with the briefest flicker of lights in between but not even enough time to boil a kettle.

In out of town areas, people are going without electricity for multiple days, even weeks. One rural friend said they’d had no power for over a week. The only commercial farmer still operating in the area had recently been evicted by an army man and now there was no one with a vehicle prepared to travel the 20 km to town to collect Zesa workers to fix the broken line.

Sitting here writing this letter by hand I try and remember the last time I saw Zesa doing any maintenance in my suburb. I decide it must be about five years ago when they came door to door and cut overhanging branches, cleared around poles and checked their lines. I fume at this thought and also at the information that a junior Zesa worker in his early twenties and without tertiary education is currently earning US$800 a month – nearly seven times more than a degreed teacher or nurse. Perhaps that’s why our bills are so high?

Until next week, thanks for reading, Ndini shamwari yenyu.

Post published in: Opinions

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