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Misfortunes, fortunes of Fortune Chasi

by Tawanda Karombo
20 Aug 2020 at 12:57hrs | Views
Zimbabwe has not had power outages for most of the period under the coronavirus lockdown.

Even when President Emmerson Mnangagwa's administration eased the restrictions on industry and commerce, the power supplies remained largely sustainable, a move welcomed by Zimbabweans and business leaders alike.

Following years of power outages blamed on dilapidated infrastructure, inefficient and old dated power plants and unsustainable electricity tariffs, Zimbabweans heaved a sigh of relief starting April 2020 when the state power utility, ZESA sustained power supplies.

At first, the reason for the availability of power was attributed mainly to low demand from industries that were essentially little functioning during the first three weeks of hard lockdown.

Either way, it was a welcome relief period which was contrary to the unimproved supplies for other utilities such as water.

A visit by Mnangagwa to high-density suburbs of Mabvuku, Highfield and Chitungwiza among others seemed to offer hope that water supplies would be restored on a sustainable basis but soon after the visit, it was back to normal - erratic to often time weeks of no water supplies.

Long queues have been a constant feature at community boreholes and in worst case scenarios residents of Harare are resorting to unsafe drinking water, which easily translates to a ticking health time-bomb amidst the already crippling Coronavirus pandemic.

Water has emerged as a big crisis for Zimbabwe. But back to the issue of electricity supplies, Zimbabwe has started to experience power outages and there has been no meaningful explanation.

Mnangagwa recently visited Hwange and his government has been waxing lyrical about key infrastructure projects, including power generation.

But in the same breadth, the country has started to experience power outages. Whether these are technical or poor failure to meet demand has not been explained.

What is apparent is that there are fears all over that Zimbabwe could be back to the dark days of erratic power supplies. Zimbabweans have been speculating on the cause of the power outages following the ouster of Fortune Chasi as Energy Minister last week.

Chasi has drawn sympathy from around and many people believe that he was the man behind Zimbabwe having sustainable electricity supplies.

At the same time there have also been misgivings about how he handled the ZESA boardroom fiasco and the Wicknell Chivhayo Gwanda solar project.

There are even whispers that he trampled on some feet in the corridors of power.

Whatever the reason, Chasi is no longer anywhere near the Energy Ministry and his successor, Soda Zhemu, who was little known hitherto his appointment certainly has some bigger shoes to fill, especially on transparency and availability to explain issues.

But it's hard to expect him to have as heavy a social media presence as Chasi.

In the interim, he can try to start rolling the ball by explaining his approach and his immediate policy pursuits.

Either way, the Energy Ministry has been a topsyturvy affair over the years and it requires good character and openness.

Of course Zimbabweans have been joking that any Minister who tries to do the job properly gets fired - hilarious and funny but still some people deeply believe this. As the power outages of this week startled many, it also emerged that the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange has been among firms that have opted to go solar instead after chief executive officer Justice Bgoni said the head office was now using solar energy.

Several other companies have also been going off grid and switching to solar or roping in hybrid batteries.

It can be a high capital cost undertaking but in the long run is sustainable and guarantees power supply, especially considering the clean nature of solar energy. Zimbabwe uses a mix of hydro and coal thermal electricity generation which is considered susceptible to climate change and is deemed unclean in the context of coal fired thermal generation.

It may still be years before Zimbabwe can effectively switch to sustainable energy sources but it is worth noting that there is a growing mindset to shift to solar. Our farming ventures as a country could also rely on wind energy to take care of some of the irrigation schemes.

Prior to his firing, Chasi had promised some farmers guaranteed electricity supplies; it seems they now also have to be seen further guarantees from the new minister.

In any case, I am struggling to see how guarantees should be provided by the Minister but then some things have become normal and common in Zimbabwe.

South Africa has also started to experience power outages and this spells doom for Zimbabwe which imports some of its power from the neighbouring country's Eskom, in addition to Mozambique's Hydro Cahora Bassa.

The South African power utility is also supplying additional electricity to Zambia, a country with which we share the Kariba Dam in terms of water for hydro-electricity generation.

 As South Africa battles to meet its own demand for electricity - the continent's most industrialised and sophisticated economy has also eased lockdown to level 2 which means more companies in industry and commerce have re-opened, Zimbabweans could find themselves with more power outages.

This is why it matters now to start thinking about moving to solar, initially as a backup and eventually as the main source of power.

The dynamics of energy supply in Zimbabwe are varied and the challenges can range from capacitation, access to foreign currency to plain or alleged corruption as has been emerging with some projects such as the Gwanda solar project.

There are so many scams in the energy sector and electricity is just but one area; the fuel sector is replete with corruption scams and underhand dealings, some of which have spilled into the Zimbabwean courts.

But just how much is the Energy Minister influential or key in energy supply?

Is he really the main guy whom we can really blame or give credit to in terms of energy supply issues?

It's a hot potato issue, especially when you consider that we have a former Energy Minister who said Zimbabwe had struck a deal for two years' worth of fuel.

The Zimbabwean Energy Minister's post is complementary or reliant on other ministries and government departments such as the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and the Finance Ministry.

As we import a sizeable chunk of our electricity and import virtually all of our fuel, it may not be the Minister's solo call.

Either way, the fortunes favoured Chasi in terms of electricity supplies in the past few months. We wait to see whether the gods will smile or frown on the new Energy Minister.

Nonetheless we do welcome him to the league; it's a power crunch league.

Source - businesstimes