ZESA’s corruption and incompetence an unwarranted burden on Zimbabweans

As I write this article, we are just seated, or milling around, incapable of engaging in any meaningful productive work. Why? Because there is no electricity - which, we desperately need for our effective operations.

I try to imagine how many people, companies and organisations throughout the country are facing the same dilemma – and just how much they are all losing in potential productivity and revenue, thereby ruining the lives of countless families, and the nation as a whole.

Who and what is truly behind this seemingly unending ‘curse’ that has befallen Zimbabweans – whose problems unrelentlessly pile up, one upon the other, in a seemingly malevolent quest to squeeze the very life out of the already heavy-burdened and suffering citizens of this country?

It is no longer strange to hear a dejected man, woman, or even child – with hopelessness and despair written all over his or her face – crying out, with a voice full of anguish, “What wrong have we done to deserve this? Why do our problems never seem to be ending, but actually worsening by each day?”

In such a dire and desperate situation there is never any shortage of explanations as to why this country seems to be some sort of a poverty and suffering magnet – ranging from a government that has the blood of numerous innocent people on their hands, to a leadership suspected of delving in the realms of witchcraft and satanism (a suspicion of which was further heightened by the alleged refusal by the late ousted president Robert Gabriel Mugabe for his corpse to be left in the hands of those in the current administration for fear that it may be used for satanic ritualistic purposes to enhance their powers). If such dark things were not happening, why would Mugabe raise the issue – as he should know, having been in the thick of things at the pinnacle of the nation for 37 years?

However, I seek not to involve myself in such a discourse – whose spiritual understanding is clearly far beyond me – but, will tackle what is obviously occurring right in front of our very own eyes and ears.

As much as Zimbabweans have endured a plethora of burdensome economic, political and social problems over the past two decades, it would be unfeasible to analyse them all in one article. Actually, it is doing gross injustice to attempt to tackle even one of the myriad of challenges in just one article.

However, as the issue of incessant electricity outages is the one that raised my ire, and exceedingly irked me, to the point of penning this piece, I will certainly do my best to deal with this burning crisis.

The country’s power utility – Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) – as well as its major shareholder, the government of Zimbabwe, have never ceased to explain away and proffer excuses as to the reasons for this dilemma that has revisited the nation after some years of relative reprieve.

Main on this list has been the critically low water levels in Kariba Dam, the country’s only hyroelectric power station – due to the severe drought experienced over the past season. Additionally, antiquated Rhodesian-era equipment at all the thermal power stations, most notably at Hwange, have been cited as another cause of the maddening power outages, as a result of frequent breakdowns.

Other factors attributed to this menace are the non-payment of outstanding bills by consumers, the charging of sub-economic tariffs over a protracted period, a long-term unserviced debt owed to South Africa’s power company Eskom – among others – by ZESA, and an alleged increase in cases of electricity infrastructure theft and vandalism.

As much as all these may appear to make perfect sense – at first glance – a critical and thorough in-depth analysis portrays a far much different picture – that reeks of unforgivable and systematic corruption, as well as institutionalised and inherent incompetence.

Let us take a closer look at all these excuses one by one. Firstly, drought is nothing new in this country, as we have recurringly experienced these for decades, if not centuries, yet our power utility never saw it fit to formulate and implement contingency measures to avert such an imminent disaster.

These measures could have been chosen from a whole host of solutions – given that there should be people specially trained and employed in dealing specifically with such issues – including, investing in alternative energy generation sources, such as wind and solar.

Since Zimbabwe hosted the World Solar Summit on 16 to 17 September 1996 Рamid much pomp and fanfare Рone would have thought that the government, which is also ZESA major shareholder, would have embarked on a massive solar energy drive 23 years ago, especially considering that the economy was performing relatively well.  However, similar to most gatherings hosted or attended by this regime Рor even conventions and agreements it has signed and ratified Рnothing tangible and concrete has seldom been yielded.

They have mostly turned out to have been nothing more than talk shops, photo ops, and moments for dining and wining, and a complete waste of taxpayers’ money.

If the government, and by extension ZESA, had taken the maximum opportunity of this solar summit in 1996, this country could have since become one of the major global power generation players and innovators. In fact, we would most likely have been exporters of electricity, rather than importers.

Yet, such is the grim travesty of those in authority in this country – as they wait for the situation to get out of hand, and become catastrophic, and only then do they start running around ‘like headless chickens’ – clearly in panic mode and clueless as what to do, due to their myopic and reactive, rather than proactive, nature.

That is why we now hear of their scrapping of duties on the importation of solar power equipment. Are they seriously telling the people of Zimbabwe that they never foresaw this energy crisis coming? I am very sure that even the then Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Douglas Smith would have told them that his government knew this way back in the 1960s. Thus, why were progressive measures not implemented way back soon after independence in 1980? Additionally, did the government not learn anything from the World Solar Summit – possibly after wasting millions of dollars in hosting an event that only served to massage the leaders’ blotted egos.

Furthermore, why in the world should a nation endowed with some of the world’s most precious mineral resources sit on its laurels for all these years, quite content with using Rhodesian power generating equipment – which most probably is no longer even still in production anywhere in the world?

Why, in 2019, are we still complaining about the breaking down of equipment at Hwange Thermal Power Station? Are these signs of both a company, and a government, that is serious with its operations, and the welfare of the nation at large? Or, are they merely content with spending all the accrued revenue on personal luxuries and upmarket lifestyles for those in power?

To imagine that ZESA and it’s major shareholder, failed in the simplest of tasks in their inability to even properly maintain – let alone upgrade – whatever they inherited from the Rhodesia era – characterised by the dilapidation of such thermal power stations as Munyati, Harare and Bulawayo – fills me with unbridled shame for my country, as I am reminded of the biblical prodigal son, who wasted all his inheritance on women and wine. Such is the story of Zimbabwe.

This brings us to the issue of corruption at the power utility. The recent Auditor General’s forensic report – conducted by Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) – cast a very dark shadow on this company and its shady operations, which witnessed the siphoning of millions of United States (US) dollars, through elaborate schemes of over-payments on transformers and other equipment, purchase of obsolete equipment, luxury vehicles (an executive reportedly splashing US$600,000 on four vehicles), and other extravagant accessories for executives.

Could these millions of US dollars, callously and wantonly abused by ZESA in a warped spending frenzy, not been better used in servicing the outstanding debt it owed foreign power entities, such as Eskom, in order to enable our importation of additional power from these countries? Yet, ZESA effectively closed this opportunity, rendering the whole nation incapacitated.

This corruptly wasted money could also have been utilised in maintaining or upgrading outdated Rhodesian-era equipment, and establishing alternative energy sources – thereby, cancelling out the continual breakdowns at Hwange Power Station, that have been attributed for the notorious out-of-schedule power outages.

Similarly, if the local power utility failed to charge reasonable and economically viable tariffs over the past years – as well as seriously and earnestly following up on outstanding payments owed to it, mostly by the so-called ‘chefs’ and ‘big fish’ within government¬† – is that the ordinary Zimbabweans’ fault? Should we then suffer because of ZESA’s own ineptitude? These were clearly ZESA’s own shortcomings, and these should never then be burdened on the already over-burdened populace by the sudden impulsive psychotic increases of tariffs – which, only the ruling elite and wealth can afford.

Even ZESA’s alleged ‘special rates’, ostensibly targeted at the majority who are economically disadvantaged, are poorly thought out and planned, as they are clearly unaffordable for the average poverty-striken Zimbabwean – and to make matters worse, most people have resorted to lodging as several families occupying one house, usually using a single meter, effectively classifying them in the expensive tariff range.

Therefore, who is to blame for the power shortages and outages that have adversely affected ordinary suffering Zimbabweans’ day to day lives, crippled business operations – negatively affecting the administration’s own “Zimbabwe is open for business”, and the target of an “upper middle income economy by 2030” – thereby, not only leading to possible company closures or downsizing, but also a phenomenal aggravation of the already high unemployment rate? Most certainly, ZESA and its major shareholder – the government of Zimbabwe – by virtue of their wanton corruption and incompetence have a serious case to answer and need to urgently be held to account.

  • Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and speaker. Please feel free to WhatsApp/call: +263733399640, or +263715667700, or calls only: +263782283975, or email: [email protected]

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