Large parts of Zimbabwe are going through 18-hour power cuts, and it's wrecking lives and businesses. The power cuts came unexpectedly in March after the government announced that its main power supply, Kariba Dam, had water reservoirs at 27%.
Kariba is not meant to be Zimbabwe's base power supply. It should be Hwange Coal station, but Hwange has been under renovations for some time now. Both Kariba and Hwange are past their due dates; Zimbabwe has not had a significant power station built since it gained independence in 1980.
Small, medium and large businesses have had to use generators to keep their operations going. Generators are meant for emergencies and not for daily long hours, so it has begun to take a toll on their service. The fuel to power generators is pushing operating costs through the roof – fuel is a scarce commodity that is hard to come by. The informal and SME sectors provide 60% of Zimbabwe's GDP, according to the IMF.
Large retailers like OK and Pick n Pay Super Arkesden have had to close branches early because of the high cost and unavailability of fuel to power generators.
Plaster Centre, a small manufacturer of wall plaster, told an online publication that:
-Before the power cuts, the plant produced about 20,000 bags of wall plaster a month, he said.
-Production has now dropped to below 7,000 bags.
-However, he still pays his 24 employees their full salaries, even though they only work six hours some nights.
Sunny Yi Fe, a Chinese tile manufacturer based in Norton, isn't faring any better. They revealed that:
If there is a power cut, the tiles become defective and are not sellable. As a result, 250,000 square meters of tiles have been damaged.
The defective tiles are worth about US$1.3 million.
"We need eight big generators to fire the whole factory. So, for the whole day, we need about 18,000 liters of diesel at the cost of ZW$100,000," said the company's director, William Gung.
One of the most significant incidents caused by the power cuts was when the telecom operator Econet's system shutdown. Econet is Zimbabwe's largest cellphone provider, commanding 70% of the mobile network market. It also has Zimbabwe's biggest mobile payment platform, Ecocash. This platform is nearly ubiquitous throughout the nation, as users use it for daily business and personal use.
On 20 July, the nation got to see how vital Econet was to the country when its systems failed.
After a power cut, Econet's generators failed to kick in and so the servers overheated. This created a domino effect on its services as they all shut down one by one. Calls could not be made, the Internet could not be accessed, and transactions could not be completed. For two whole days, Zimbabwe was at a standstill. Soon after Econet's CEO took out full-page spread ads explaining that operating conditions were untenable.
The power cuts have affected how Zimbabweans live day-to-day. They are now using alternatives like gas and firewood for cooking and opting to iron clothes late at night along with using solar lights at night. Although citizens have been able to adjust, it is businesses that have had the hardest time with the schedules. The power supplier has guaranteed electricity supply to central business districts, but not all companies are located in these districts.
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