At exactly 3:00 AM this morning my house lost power. I was already lying awake pondering the many problems that come with being Zimbabwean. I jumped out of the bed and looked through the window. With a sinking feeling I realised it was what I already suspected, the same problem that ZESA was supposed to have fixed just over a week ago seems to have recurred.
Half the houses in my neighbourhood have no power. Thanks to this mishap, I and this doomed half, am going to probably be spending another Christmas in the dark. In fact, as I angrily climbed back into my bed cursing I did some quick calculations. Since 2008 I have had about 8 Christmases without power due to one problem or another. All of it was ZESA’s fault even though they won’t admit it ever.
A litany of corruption, incompetence and misplaced prioritisation
I take perverse comfort in noting that I am not alone in dealing with my bereavement. ZESA now lists all the current Harare area faults on its website. The last update was on the 17th of December (last week). I must warn you before you click on that link you need to make sure that you have the data to spare. The page is almost 2MB big and takes a while to load even though it is made up almost entirely of text. Just goes to show you how many faults there are.
According to the site in the Harare Region, ZESA is grappling with the following faults:
- Harare North District has 62 faults
- Harare South has 73 -mine is still included in that tally as it had not yet been taken off the list
- Harare East (including Ruwa) has a whopping 173 faults and
- there are 40 listed faults in Chitungwiza
The list is quite interesting in other ways too. It gives a picture of some of the problems that are plaguing ZETDC.
ZETDC, ZPC… just re-bundle already
Generally, most problems are often blamed on ZPC which has consistently failed to meet demand since we began the new millennium. It seems just like our roads which are deteriorating right in front of our roads, our national grid is crumbling too.
So just FYI: ZPC (Zimbabwe Power Company) is the ZESA subsidiary that is responsible for power generation while ZETDC (Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company) is the subsidiary responsible for bringing the generated power to your home or wherever else. The re-bundling of all these entities into just the one ZESA as we used to know is on the cards. Yea, they are literally playing some weird unbundle-rebundle game while we sit in darkness!
Back to ZETDC
Most ZETDC faults are transformer faults- this is not helped by the fact that there is a chronic transformer shortage. Some are struck by lightning, others explode in flames after the transformer oil has been drained by thieves, others are just old while some can no longer meet demand. Other faults are caused by failed Ring Main Unit issues which also seem to be in short supply. Cable faults round up the bulk of the rest and guess what? Cables are also in short supply too.
Apart from blaming unnamed and unknown thieves, ZETDC does not seem to have a solution to stem the tide. Whenever the issue of transformer and cable shortages is brought up, the authorities at both ZESA and in government quickly blame the public who they say are not paying their bills.
The truth is that thanks to corruption it is ZESA and the government that are to blame for lack of resources. Leaked lists have shown who is not paying their bills: it’s top government officials, Bigwigs as they are colloquially known, government departments and several municipal authorities. The rest of us are on prepaid power funding the failing power utility while those in power get a free ride still.
REA must be redirected
Did you know that when you buy $1 000 ZWL of ZESA you get at most $940.00 ZWL worth of electricity units? Where does the rest go? Well, it’s deducted as part of the Rural Electrification Agency’s Levy. Ostensibly the money will be used to fund and speed up electrification in rural and marginalised areas.
Personally, I think this is the dumbest and most unfair idea ever. ZPC is barely producing enough power as it is and they want to add more people to the grid we have already established is crumbling? That money should be redirected to purchasing urgently needed spares like RMUs, cables and transformers. That 6% will go a long way in alleviating some of these chronic shortages that ZETDC is experiencing.
In time ZESA will join PTC
We have said it here before, and I will say it again, eventually ZESA will become a dinosaur. Something like PTC the formerly omnipotent authority that begat NetOne, TelOne and ZimPost. Its offspring are nowhere near as important or as arrogant as it was. You can live your life without ever using any of their services. It was a monopoly that failed to move with the times.
We are seeing this already. ZESA is losing business customers to Solar Power. More and more businesses are installing solar power plants on their premises with the latest high profile move involving Zuva Petroleum which is in the process of installing solar power on all its service stations. In all these instances ZESA is now essentially the backup.
With Net-metering now a thing, some domestic customers will probably also be lured down the solar route. That will result in a shrinkage in the power utility’s revenue base and will ultimately lead to its demise. It won’t die completely, but the ZESA you know now is soon going to be a thing of the past, especially if it continues down it’s ruinous path.
Another ruined Christmas for me…
As I lay in darkness with these thoughts swirling in my mind I eventually drifted to sleep. Resigning myself to another dark Christmas. My fate is already sealed but I do hope all those reading this will have a Christmas that’s happier than mine and a new year that’s better than 2020. I mean 2021 cannot be worse right? Can it? It cannot? It must not be worse.