Zesa, Zimbabwe’s power utility, has not only courted the ire of residents through its inept supply of electricity and exorbitant tariffs, but through its negligence that has maimed people and at worst, cost others their lives.
REPORT BY CYNTHIA R MATONHODZE
Alexio Tembo (38) and Paradzai Mupandenyama (40) are two people whose anger at Zesa is overpowering.
“Zesa must give us our hands back. . .” screamed the two in anger during an interview with NewsDay. “We don’t want the money anymore, we want our hands now!”
The two, who have lost limbs due to Zesa’s negligence, tell a pathetic story akin to a David and Goliath story in reverse where the former is always at the receiving end.
The two are part of a group of six men who were electrocuted while holding a power cable near Chiwaridzo Farm in Bindura on January 7, 2011 and sued the company for a combined amount of almost $2,7 million in damages.
The men — including Tembo and Mupandenyama — Prince Chinembiri, Clemence Shawu, Kudakwashe Kapfunde and Orchard Kanjado had been asked by ZETDC (a subsidiary of Zesa) workers to help them raise two electricity poles that had fallen to the ground resulting in a power outage in that area.
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“We were happy to help them because we had businesses here that required electricity to function well,” said Tembo.
While the men were holding the power cable, as it was not live, electricity was then accidently restored to that area sending 33 000kVA through their hapless bodies, leaving the three of them seriously injured.
Both Tembo and Mupandenyama, who have 75% and 92% permanent body injury respectively, stayed for three months in hospital undergoing major surgical operations.
Tembo lost his right index finger and now has a chronic wound near his left ankle that requires skin grafting, while Mupandenyama’s right hand had to be amputated and flesh-filling performed on his left hand that had contractured due to burns sustained from the incident.
In the time that the two were in hospital, their businesses collapsed. Tembo, however, never recovered. He has sold everything in the past three years to sustain his family and to pay for his medical expenses which have now left him broke.
Initially, Zesa paid for some of their medical expenses while they were in hospital and would pay for doctors’ consultations and medication thereafter, but stopped abruptly, with no explanation, towards the end of 2012.
“I approached Zesa representatives (names supplied) here about the matter as I was in pain and desperately needed medication, but they cheekily told me to approach the papers since I am fond of speaking ill of them in the papers,” said Tembo. (Tembo’s story was first published in NewsDay on September 15, 2012).
“It is only after I threatened to take my life because I had nothing left to live for that the HR representative intervened, apologised and bought me painkillers. Since then I have been surviving on an assisted medical treatment order which I was given by the social services department, but it expired in December last year. At one point my wound got so bad that I couldn’t walk, I had to be piggybacked by well-wishers to get to a clinic. My wife left me so I have tried to commit suicide three times and on all three occasions the rope has snapped and dropped me to the ground.”
Dr Hatshliwayo, a doctor with a private surgery in Bindura who has been treating Tembo and Mupandenyama said: “Zesa approached us to manage their patients’ wounds. At first, they would pay the costs religiously, but this suddenly stopped two years ago. We would try to get in touch with them, but they would never respond, it got to the point where we would send their patients there to plead with them, but still they would not make any payments. Now we just treat them regardless.”
The matter has been at the High Court for the past three years, but according to Mupandenyama every time they went to court Zesa would ask the judge to allow dialogue between the power utility and the victims to negotiate an amount, but would never contact them after.
This apparently happened on three occasions until January 20 this year that judgment was defaulted because Zesa did not show up in court.
The victims’ lawyer Zvidzai Kajokoto of Kajokoto and Company said: “Zesa has promised to compensate for a long time now, but now they should have a human heart.”
Prince Chinembiri (23), another victim in the same incident, says the accident has significantly altered his life and he expects Zesa to pay.
He has 40% permanent injury.
Asked about what Zesa has done to help the victims and what they were doing to prevent such accidents, the parastatal’s public relations manager Fullard Gwasira declined to comment saying: “(The) issue is subjudice and I can’t comment any further.”
When NewsDay published the stories of Nyasha Koroka and Constance Sinachinga last year, Zesa published a series of adverts that ran in most local papers warning the public of the dangers posed by touching electricity cables.
Koroka, a Banket woman, had her left arm amputated after she was electrocuted by a dangling Zesa cable in 2010 while in 2012, Sinachinga lost her 10-year-old son, Takudzwa, after he fell into a pit of unprotected live power cables that had been left unattended for close to three months. In Sinachinga’s case Zesa denied liability saying that they had not dug the pit, but as soon as the accident happened they sealed it and offered $300 to meet funeral expenses.
Both parties are seeking compensation from the utility company.
These stories form part of a growing list of deaths and injuries that have been caused by unprotected or unsecured live Zesa cables in the past few years and where the parastatal has denied responsibility or reneged on compensating the victims.
Who is responsible at Zesa? THE cases above tell a story of how Zimbabweans have become victims of Zesa’s negligence in one way or the other, and also, of Zesa’s attitude towards Zimbabweans and their general responsibilities as a power utility company. The company seems to have no sense of social responsibility judging from its arrogance.
Zesa, dubbed cynically by Zimbabweans as “Zimbabwe Electricity Sometimes Available” for the past decade, has caused the loss of children, relatives, businesses and property of many Zimbabweans due to power technicalities resulting from aged infrastructure and erratic load-shedding.
This week it was reported in our sister paper, Southern Eye that some residents of Pumula South, Nketa and Emganwini in Bulawayo had gone for several days without electricity after transformers were struck by lightning.
Residents were angry at the utility company for their inefficiency.
“They are efficient when it comes to disconnecting power for non-payment, but are dragging their feet in restoring electricity when it is them who have to rectify a fault,” said Stella Moyo of Pumula South.
Many Zimbabweans have experienced the same situations which beg the question: Who exactly is responsible at Zesa?