Plunged into darkness again

zesaDear Family and Friends,
We have been plunged back into a dramatic, gruelling electricity crisis for the last 10 days, which has left most areas receiving .............

electricity for five hours a day. When electricity is restored it is only in the middle of the night between 11.30 pm and 4 am. Normal functioning has become almost impossible and no electricity means no water can be pumped and many days communication also collapses as mobile phones are unable to pick up a signal. In private homes water supply has dwindled to two or less hours a day, geysers are cold, fridges and deep freezers have defrosted and their contents gone bad.

I paid a visit to the main ZESA offices this week and asked the lady at the enquiries desk how many more days or weeks of this we might be facing. “I don’t know,” she replied. Is the problem at Hwange or Kariba, I asked. “I don’t know,” she replied. Is it maintenance or faults, I asked but again she said: “I don’t know.” I left shaking my head and muttering, exasperated that such a bored and uninterested person was keeping her job with this attitude in a country where 9 out of 10 people are unemployed.

Unemployment is huge in Zimbabwe. Everywhere you go there are groups of young men standing around doing nothing. Youngsters that have been to school and are strong, willing and able but just can’t find jobs. Young women are in equally dire straits: they come out of senior school and are keen, fresh and eager to work but there are no jobs. University graduates, new degrees in hand, are no better off, unable to find places to put their new skills and talents to work.

When you talk to employers about the unemployment problem you see the other side of the coin but its just as gloomy. Business is very slow as most people are on survival budgets and nothing is left at the end of the month after food, utilities, rent and transport have been paid for. Businesses can’t afford to update equipment and machines and there is nothing left to put aside for expansion or improvement. For most small companies, all the income that is generated is keeping ten or twenty employees paid and settling bills and nothing is left over.

One businesswoman explained that when we changed to trading in US dollars a year ago, most companies started with literally zero capital; everything they had was in Zimbabwe dollars and this was rendered useless overnight. Coming after 10 years of hyperinflation, repeated devaluations and government imposed price controls, it is nothing short of miraculous that any local businesses survived at all.

A year into our so-called unity government, things are just as difficult for employers. Imagine trying to run a business without electricity: computers, tools, engines, machines that cannot be used. Workers stand around idle, unable to work and yet you still have to pay them. Employees can be sent home until the electricity comes back on, but that could be any time as power cuts are erratic and unexpected and schedules non-existent or not adhered to.

Many businesses have had no option but to buy generators but every litre of diesel used eats away at income and profits dwindle. Then there are the never ending calls for increases in wages and threats of strikes and when employers try and retrench some staff to save others, they are hit with massive “packages” which leave their companies in debt and close to bankruptcy.

Until next time, thanks for reading, Ndini shamwari yenyu

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