Power shortages spawn ‘night operators’

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For a long time, only beerhalls and bottle stores have been known to operate deep into the night, but in Chitungwiza, there has been a paradigm shift that has seen other business lines, welding enterprises, hair salons and grinding mills, joining this bandwagon.

Most of these businesses are run by indigenous entrepreneurs who had sought other financial lifelines as the formal job market increasingly shrunk over the past decade. Zimbabwe has been battling its worst post-independence economic crisis.

With the country’s sole power utility, Zesa Holdings, failing to supply adequate power for both industrial and domestic use, most backyard entrepreneurs whose businesses depend heavily on electricity have been forced to keep vigil with owls as the only time when electricity is available is during the night.

A welder based in Zengeza 5, Samson Maringe, said they have been getting a raw deal from Zesa and this has forced them to be more innovative in their approach towards business.

“Welding is my life,” he said. “And because of electricity problems we have been facing, we had to find ways of going around the problem, so, together with my colleagues, we decided to work during the night.”

Over the past few weeks their area has been experiencing severe load-shedding forcing the welders to spend literally the whole day without power.

Maringe said investing in a generator would have been more expensive, so they decided to operate during the night.

He said they usually worked up until midnight before calling it a day and then waiting for the following night.

“Sometimes we can get power for a few hours during the day, but it’s usually not good enough because we can’t do much work,” he said.

Sonia Guzha, who runs a hair salon in the dormitory town, said the power shortages have had a negative impact on her business.

Although she had since installed a generator, she said it was expensive to run so she did not always use it.

She said Zesa Holdings had been such a big letdown and due to the frequent power cuts, she was forced to cut down her employees’ working hours and, subsequently, their salaries.

“It’s unfortunate that load-shedding had become so bad to such an extent that I was forced to cut down on my employees’ working hours,” she said.

She said the major problem had been that the hairstyles that most of her customers preferred could only be done through the use of driers, which require electricity, with only a few opting for weaves and other “hand-made” styles.

The Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company, a subsidiary of Zesa, recently said Zimbabwe would continue to have serious load-shedding and power outages until 2014, as the power utility is struggling to raise $125 million needed to repair the outdated Hwange Power Station.

The country will only have surplus electricity supply in 2014 after the construction of four more units at the country’s two major power stations, according to the power utility’s corporate relations manager Fullard Gwasira.

“The current deficit will be overcome after the completion of Hwange 7 and 8 and Kariba 7 and 8 (units). The four units will produce 900 megawatts (MW) against our currently deficit of 700MW,” said Gwasira.

He said the two units at Hwange Power Station will produce 600MW while the other in Kariba will have a capacity of 150 MW each.

The parastatal’s daily load-shedding exercise has crippled industrial operations and routine business which cannot do without electricity, although the utility has continued to send out estimated bills with exorbitant charges.

According to Luke Murindagoma, who runs a grinding mill, the power outages have forced them to work at night when power would have been restored.

“We have been left with no choice, but to revise our operating system. Under normal circumstances, we would want our employees to work during the day and knock off in the evening. But now most of the day we don’t have electricity, which is usually restored around 8 or 9pm,” he said.

“This means we have to work from around that time up until around midnight, which is just between three and four hours. Our customers just bring in their grain, we grind it during the night and they collect the mealie-meal the next day.”

He said it was a hard schedule, but that was the only short-term solution they had in view of the electricity the excessive load-shedding curently crippling operations.

Over the past few years, many businesses at Chitungwiza Town Centre had since relocated, reducing the once-vibrant complex to a white elephant.