Let’s spare a thought for Zesa’s PR manager Fullard Gwasira. Here is a man who has his hands full.
He is in the newspapers or on radio virtually every day to defend the foibles of the national power company whose core business now is to proffer excuses for its failure to deliver power.
Gwasira, like a number of PR practitioners in floundering State enterprises, finds himself in an invidious situation where his message has become so soporific that he sounds like a record stuck in a groove.
Even more challenging is the fact that the conduct of his employer makes it very difficult for him to deliver any positive news.
To say that the country is fed up with rolling power outages is really an understatement.
The term Zesa is often uttered in the same breath with curses and choice swear words. It has ceased to be a company that produces power, but one responsible for taking the country back to the dark ages.
It is a company known for switching off power and bringing misery to homes and businesses.
Gwasira has in the face of this huge task tried to put up a strong defence for the darkness around us.
The list of explanations has become as predictable as sunrise.
The country is not generating enough power, the power stations have antiquated machinery, consumers are not paying debts; there is rampant theft of the utility’s equipment, tree branches interfering with overhead cables, rain, transport, sanctions. . .
Most of this is true, but consumers will at the end of it all want to know when they will be switched on.
A PR campaign in a crisis situation is always going to fail as long as it fails to give assurances at the end that positive change would be delivered.
The danger that Zesa is falling into is elevating the communication of their failure into an industry of its own.
They have become masters of the excuse.
There is always a reason why or why not for everything. However, none of these reasons involves anything approaching personal responsibility for outcomes.
What is astonishing is how natural all this excusing seems to come to Zesa officials.
The team has truly created a culture of excuses where a culture of achievement was called for to the extent that their excuses now mean absolutely nothing.
Lately the power utility has launched a sponsored programme on radio to talk to consumers.
The programme is supposed to give Zesa a platform to educate consumers on how to conserve power and use energy safely.
And as soon as consumers are given the opportunity to phone in their contributions, the thrust of the programme is trashed.
A cacophony of complaints immediately sets in. The futility of the PR campaign to protect the reputation of the power company becomes apparent.
Zesa has reached a level where mere PR will not work for them to regain legitimacy. What is worth noting is that an organisation must defend its deeds through both communication and behaviour.
There is no apparent change in the conduct of Zesa.
The company does not send bills on time; it does not read meters regularly; it does not respond to faults on time; it does not follow its published load-shedding schedules; its officials demand bribes to spare defaulters from being cut off and so on.
These are genuine complaints from consumers who at the end of the day have to endure 10-hour power cuts.
It must be noted that “excuses are tools of the incompetent, and those who specialise in them seldom go far” – (Anon).
Zesa are in good company on this chariot of excuses.
Many state enterprises and local authorities have elaborate PR departments whose job is to give excuses.
Just listen to the National Railways of Zimbabwe’s Fanuel Masikati explaining the late arrival of a passenger train by half a day or to Harare City Council’s Leslie Gwindi trying to explain the fact that there are suburbs in Harare which have been without regular running water for more than four years.
Do these explanations give their employers any legitimacy? Not at all, as long as they are not accompanied by tangible action.
Eighteenth-century English poet Alexander Pope summed this practice well: “An excuse is worse than a lie, for an excuse is a lie, guarded.”