On an early Tuesday morning characterised by the winter chill, poorly heated by sporadic streaks of sunshine, Edna Muganhu dumps nearly 25kg of malodorous meat at a dump site a few kilometres south of the capital Harare.
The meat from a nearby butchery where she works as a cashier was slowly rotting after the country's rolling power cuts affected the outlet's refrigerators. Sadly for her employer, running a diesel generator is just not economical, especially as diesel is still in short supply and, when available on parallel markets, is expensive and often priced in US dollars.
Zimbabwe’s power cuts have just worsened and the outlook is even worse. This month the state power utility, the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, said it was introducing stage 2 load shedding which means blackouts of up to 15 hours a day.
“We did not have electricity the whole day yesterday and when we arrived for work today, there was no electricity. The meat has gone bad and we can't keep it,” Muganhu says.
Big business is also suffering from the outages and even though they can afford to run diesel generators, they have to cut back on business hours. Such is the case with Simbisa Brands, which operates Nando’s, Steers, Chicken Inn and Pizza Inn outlets, among others.
“Due to the insistent power cuts, we have been forced to trade within the highlighted hours during load shedding. The complex will be running a generator during this period,” says Simbisa in a notice to customers at one of its complexes in Harare.
This effectively means that from Mondays to Thursdays, Simbisa Brands outlets will only be operational between 11.30am and 2.30pm and between 3.30pm and 8pm. Fridays to Sundays, the outlets will be open from 10.30am to 2.30pm and between 4pm and 9pm.
The gripping power crunch has been exacerbated by declining water levels at the Kariba Dam that feeds the Kariba Hydro Power Plant. The Zambezi River Authority, which manages water usage from the dam, said this week that water levels at Kariba are at a low 29percent.
Further worsening the situation are reports suggesting that some units from the Hwange coal fired power station are down. The Zimbabwe Electricity Supply and Distribution Company (Zesdc), a unit of Zesa, says it is undertaking major upgrades and maintenance work.
“For Hwange Power Station, funding was secured from India for major work on boilers, turbines and auxiliaries. “Work will be done on all the six units on the existing plant,” Zesdc said.
Knowledgeable engineers said Zimbabwe is currently running on a power deficit of about 850MW as it is also struggling to import electricity from Mozambique and from Eskom owing to arrears that require foreign currency.
Energy Minister Fortune Chasi has demanded sustainable solutions from Zesdc and has fired the board of the parastatal, saying they lack innovative ideas to address the power situation.
“The era of procrastination, collusion, of half-measures, of soothing expedients, of delays in implementing power projects is coming to an abrupt end. In its place shall enter a period of consequences and results,” says Chasi.
Apart from the power crunch, Zimbabwean businesses are witnessing declining purchases as consumers struggle with price increases, business executives say.
President Emerson Mnangagwa’s administration has ruled out price controls but has issued some stern warnings to business leaders.
The prices have been increasing, tracking the continued weakness in the country’s RTGS$ currency.
Legal and economic experts in Zimbabwe warned yesterday that the country would tip into hyperinflation after Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube tabled a legal instrument outlawing foreign currencies as legal tender, stipulating that all local transactions be settled in Zimbabwean dollar.
The challenges for Zimbabwe’s economy keep worsening. Mnangagwa, however, says the economy cannot be fixed overnight, a view that has angered his critics who accuse him of doing nothing to fight corruption, which is seen as one of the biggest impediments to economic recovery in Zimbabwe.
Yet far from this, small and big businesses, as well as ordinary Zimbabweans, are crying out for sustainable supplies of power.
With the situation on the ground, Zimbabwe’s power supply situation is worsening and although heads have been rolling in the scramble for solutions, darker days are ahead.