Zimbabwe outages plunge businesses into darkness

ZIMBABWE (REUTERS) – Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised a ”brighter tomorrow” when he was sworn in, vowing to revive the country’s economy after Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule.

But this week Zimbabwe is firmly in the dark, as it endures the worst power cuts in three years.

Despite being left without any power for up to 10 hours at a time, life has to go on for teachers like John Alfonzo.

“I’m using the candlelight and it’s difficult and it’s not good for my health, look at my eyes using the candle, candle light is not that bright,” said Alfonzo.

When the candle light isn’t quite strong enough, John relies on his phone light to help him mark his pupils’ work.

But for those working with perishable goods, power outages – known locally as load shedding – are particularly problematic.

Nelson Masaka has owned a butchery for 12 years.

“I now keep a fuel jerrycan here because anytime when power goes I have to close the shop and go to the petrol station to buy diesel for the generator so I can keep the business running,” said Masaka. “But diesel is also expensive and not readily available which is another challenge so I only power up the generator at night so that the next morning the fridges are cold enough to store meat. That’s the situation in this country.”

Drought drastically diminished water levels feeding the country’s only hydro plant.

Now it produces only a third of its intended output – prompting the state power utility to announce the indefinite rolling blackouts last week.

The power cuts threaten the country’s mining output too, a crucial sector in Mnangagwa’s bid to salvage the economy.

For the past 20 years, Zimbabwe has struggled to generate enough electricity to meet demand.

But in the last decade, it signed multiple power generation agreements, including solar power that would have added more than 3,000 megawatts (MW) in new electricity to the grid.

However, the projects failed to take off due to bureaucracy and lack of funding, as some investors see the political landscape as risky.

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