Cold and dark

Dear Family and Friends,

Winter crept in under the door this week, just when we thought it had forgotten us. In 24 hours the day time temperature plummeted from the mid twenties to a bitter seven degrees Celsius and Zimbabwe shivered. As the mist and wind swept in and swallowed my neighbourhood, the electricity went off and plunged us into the cold and dark.

In my home town the electricity supplier, ZESA, said it was load shedding when we phoned, even when we told them it was a fault. The problem was a main overhead power cable which had woken the whole neighbourhood when it broke at around five in the morning. Crackling, banging, flaring and sparking, the cable had snapped in two places and then fell along and across a small suburban road.

It took a telephone cable down with it and finally came to a rest on a neighbour’s steel gate. What a mess it was and extremely dangerous. After repeated calls to ZESA telling them there was a live cable lying on a man’s gate and along a few hundred metres of suburban road, they finally arrived three hours later, at 8.30 in the morning.

By lunch time the cable was still lying across the tar road and ZESA had left a team of tree cutters to remove branches that were touching the overhead cables. The usual absurd and extremely frustrating conversation between residents and ZESA workers wasn’t long in coming.

‘Why don’t you come any do any maintenance on these lines anymore,” we asked.

‘Aaah, we don’t have money,’ was the reply.

‘But if you came and trimmed the trees every year, like you used to, the cables wouldn’t get weakened and break and it wouldn’t lead to such expensive repairs.’

There was no reply. It’s been at least six years since ZESA have gone around my neighbourhood clearing vegetation and brush from around their poles and transformers or trimmed tree branches growing too close to the lines. Someone pointed to the shoulder high dry grass and scrubby bush growing right up to the ZESA switching box.

Last year a bush fire in exactly this spot had caused an explosion in the box, the melted green paint proof of the near tragedy that we had all rushed to avert, extinguishing flames with branches and sacks.

Just a few metres away the branches of a large eucalyptus tree blowing and swaying in between the overhead power cables were easily visible.

‘While you’ve got the workers and the ladders here, will you at least trim the eucalyptus branches,’ we asked.

‘Another time,’ came the reply. It’s exactly the same response they gave us when we made the same request about the same tree a year ago.

That response was about as comforting as the mid year statement made by the Chairman of the Zimbabwe Power Company a few days ago. Mr Maasdorp said : “The only way to compensate for a sub-economic tariff is to cut back on maintenance and ongoing refurbishment. This is clearly not sustainable and if the situation is not addressed urgently, the lights you have from time to time today will go out tomorrow!”

Not mentioned in the Chairman’s public mid year statement was the recent report in The Zimbabwean newspaper that farmers on seized farms owed ZESA $80 million in unpaid bills and wanted government to give them more financial support. While they’re at it, I’m sure a couple of million urban residents won’t mind government paying their electricity bills either!

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

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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