By Tendai Chara
The recent hike in electricity tariffs in Zimbabwe by the national utility, Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority Holdings, has resulted in most households failing to access this important source of energy, resulting in them switching to other alternative sources of energy, it has emerged.
ZESA Holdings recently hiked electricity tariffs by 19,02 percent.
Apart from switching to other sources of energy such as wood, charcoal and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), some households are now resorting to illegal electricity connections.
Most suburbs across the country have been experiencing constant electricity supplies since the beginning of the COVID-19 induced national lockdown, which started on 30 March.
The recent partial re-opening of industries that usually consume much electricity has not affected electricity supply.
A recent survey by this publication revealed that the majority of residents in the high-density suburbs of Harare have since scaled down on the use of electricity.
Instead, the residents are switching to alternative sources of energy such as charcoal, wood and LPgas for cooking.
Due to the high cost of electricity, most households are now using electricity for lighting and as a source of charging phones and other small electric appliances.
Most households have since stopped cooking using electricity powered stoves.
The Mutema family, of Budiriro, Harare, is one of the many that have since resorted to wood for cooking.
“I agreed with my tenants that we are only going to use electricity for lighting and for charging phones. As for cooking, we are now using wood, charcoal or gas,” Mary Mutema, of Budiriro, said.
To make sure that the tenants are complying with this arrangement, Mrs Mutema collected the tenants’ stoves and kept them in her house.
She justified the decision to “confiscate” her tenants’ cooking stoves.
“Desperate times demand desperate measures. In the past, we had such an arrangement but some tenants would wake up at night and use their stoves for cooking,” she explained.
For George Mugove, a wood vendor in Glen View in Harare, the increase in electricity charges is a welcome development.
“As you can see, my wood stock is about to run out. I was not anticipating such a huge demand,” Mr Mugove said.
According to Mugove, the smallest bunch of firewood is going for (US$1,20.
A charcoal vendor, who was selling the product from his backyard in Mbare high-density suburb, in Harare, also spoke about the change in fortunes for his business.
“I get the charcoal that I am selling from cross-border truckers. Due to the huge demand, I am failing to supply my customers,” the vendor who requested anonymity said.
Charcoal stoves are also in great demand.
Some families are, however, now resorting to the illegal connections of electricity.
A survey carried by this publication revealed that unscrupulous ZESA employees are behind the illegal connections, with some of them charging as much as US$60 for the illegal connections.
Of late, there has been an increase in the number of people, the majority of whom are current and former ZESA workers that, have been brought before the courts for illegally connecting electricity.
Notion Charakupa, a worker with ZESA’s Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC), was recently brought before the Chitungwiza Magistrates Courts and fined $600 (US$24), for illegally connecting electricity to 11 households in Chitungwiza while pretending to be on official duty.
Prosecutor, Norman Koropi, proved that from January to April this year, Charakupa, together with his accomplices, bought electrical cables, a ladder, electricity meters and boxes and proceeded to Garikai houses in Unit L, Seke, where they illegally connected electricity to 11 houses.
Koropi said the three lied that they were ZETDC employees and were on official duty since they were all wearing the company’s overalls and using the company’s vehicle, which was being driven by Charakupa.
The matter came to light when another ZETDC worker, Shepherd Marunga, received an anonymous tip off that the trio were connecting electricity to houses using the old fixed system instead of the prepaid system, leading to their arrest.
The illegal connections prejudiced ZETDC a lot of revenue as the connections by-passed the official charging metres.
This is only a tip of the iceberg as the majority of the cases involving illegal connections are not reported.
Fullard Gwasira, ZESA Holdings spokesperson, is on record bemoaning the loss of revenue due to illegal electricity connections.
ZESA relies largely on thermal power from Hwange and imports from South Africa and Mozambique as Kariba South has been generating well below capacity because of low water flows into Lake Kariba.
Power from Hwange is more expensive because it requires coal, while importing power requires foreign currency, which Zimbabwe is struggling to access as a result of economic challenges the country is going through.