Zimbabwe caught napping on power crisis

Ministers Patrick Chinamasa and Samuel Undenge.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa (right) and Energy Minister Samuel Undenge.

ENERGY and Power Development Minister, Samuel Undenge has admitted that government was not ready to deal with the power crisis facing the country, publicly admitting that they were “caught napping”.
Addressing stakeholders during a clean energy week conference held in Harare last week, Undenge, who faced a public backlash for the devastating power blackouts until President Robert Mugabe exonerated him on his arrival from the United National General Assembly in the United States of America, pointed out that the electricity crisis facing the nation was not unique to Zimbabwe.
It was a regional energy crisis triggered by several issues, the Minister said, adding, however, that Zimbabwe had been “caught napping” by the crisis.
“We were caught napping,” the minister said referring to the crisis facing Zimbabwe.
“We are experiencing the same problems. There are power shortages in South Africa, Botswana and Zambia,” Undenge said, stressing that in Zimbabwe and Zambia, the crisis had worsened because of dropping water levels in the Zambezi River basin, which feeds the power plant on Kariba dam and is shared by both countries.
Last week, a senior Zambian official blamed the dropping water levels on the Zambezi on the over-use of water in Kariba for the water crisis.
Guy Scott, the former Zambia president who ruled the country briefly for three months following the death of president Michael Sata last year, rebuffed official arguments that drought was behind the ongoing power crisis.
“What we have now is a weak regulator sitting between two puppies drinking milk from the same saucer,” Scott was quoted as saying in Lusaka, the Zambian capital.
But in Zimbabwe, the crisis has been a result largely of poor planning.
Lack of investment in power generation infrastructure since 1980 has resulted in aging equipment at both the hydroelectric power station in Kariba and the thermal plant in Hwange.
Until recently, government had moved slowly to licence independent power producers as it tried to protect the State-run ZESA Holdings’ monopoly.
Licencing of independent players was expected to result in the production of more electricity to power industries and domestic consumers.
Last week, the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) blamed the slow reaction by government for the power crisis.
“In 2007 we said we were going to face power shortages,” said Rosemary Siyachitema, executive director at CCZ.
“Authorities must have looked at this…other than to wait for the crisis. They must not procrastinate, these are issues that they knew, but they don’t seem to be picking up their feet to act. We seem to hear so many excuses, one excuse after the other, and yet we don’t seem to see action,” she said.