HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s state power utility imposed the worst rolling blackouts in three years on Monday, with households and industries including mines set to be without electricity for up to eight hours daily.
The power cuts could stoke mounting public anger against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government as Zimbabweans grapple with an economic crisis that has seen shortages of U.S. dollars used as the official currency, fuel, food and medicines as well as soaring inflation that is eroding earnings and savings.
Many Zimbabweans say life is getting harder and that Mnangagwa is failing to deliver on pre-election promises last year to rebuild an economy shattered during Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule.
“There is no fuel and now we don’t have electricity, this is just too much,” said 26-year-old Judith Mawoyo, who owns a food stall at a downtown Harare mall. “How are we even supposed to prepare food? Gas is too expensive now, this is bad for business.”
The Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC), citing reduced output at its largest hydro plant and ageing coal-fired generators, said power cuts started on Monday and would last up to eight hours during morning and evening peak periods.
The southern African country last experienced such serious blackouts in 2016 following a devastating drought.
Isaac Kwesu, chief executive of the Chamber of Mines, which groups Zimbabwe’s biggest mining companies, said critical industries like mining should be spared from the blackouts.
“Mining requires electricity for both operations and safety. It will be very costly to have production stoppages, that is why we will be engaging ZETDC to find ways to minimize any costly disruptions due to the electricity cuts,” Kwesu told Reuters.
Mining accounted for more than two-thirds of Zimbabwe’s $4.8 billion in total export earnings last year and any power cuts in the sector will affect production and exports.
In the past, some of the big mines, including platinum and gold producers, have resorted to directly importing electricity from neighbouring countries like Mozambique and South Africa.
Sifelani Jabangwe, president of the manufacturers association of Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, said he had started receiving calls from some members hit by power cuts.
“For manufacturing this will really be a big loss in production and once you disturb the production cycle it has ripple effects on the economy,” Jabangwe told Reuters in a telephone interview. He said the association would plead with ZETDC to spare its members from the blackouts.
The power utility’s holding company ZESA said last month it had applied to the national energy regulator to raise its tariff by 30 percent for maintenance of its grid and after the price of inputs like diesel went up.
Zimbabwe is also experiencing shortages of fuel, forcing motorists to queue for hours, and the government has so far failed to make good on previous promises to end the shortage.
Zimbabwe, now producing 969 MW ofelectricity daily against peak demand of 2,100 MW, is entering its peak winter power demand season, which will only increase power consumption.
Energy and Power Development Minister Joram Gumbo was quoted by a local newspaper as saying he would travel to Mozambique this week to try to agree an electricity supply deal with that country’s power utility Hydro Cahora Bassa.
Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise/Mark Heinrich