A MASSIVE power outage lasting more than 50 hours hit southern Zimbabwe at the weekend after poorly maintained pylons near Chiredzi succumbed to heavy storms, cutting electricity trunk lines in the southern districts along the proposed path of Mozambique-Zimbabwe-South Africa transmission project involving the three countries.
BY REX MPHISA
It was the worst outage in the area in years.
Close to 500 000 consumers in parts of Chivi South, Chiredzi South, Beitbridge and Mwenezi districts were left without power.
Zesa Holdings spokesperson Fullard Gwasira said the outage was caused by collapsed pylons at Triangle near Chiredzi, and correctional measures were being hampered by the continuous rainstorms.
“The Tokwe-Triangle fault has been caused by landing span poles, which went down at Triangle. Replacement poles have been sourced at Sherwood for installation. Excavations for pole replacement are in progress,” he said.
Gwasira said challenges that hampered power restoration from an alternative source in South Africa included faulty capacity transformers at South Africa’s Eskom, which they could not load power onto.
“The operation challenge is that it is not possible to reticulate from Eskom, who have faulted our line CT’s (capacity transformers). There is limited supply from Orange Grove, where a one grid transformer is constraining load for Middle Sabi, Mkwasine and Triangle at 20 megawatts,” he said.
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“Stringing cables was hampered by heavy rains and the cranes were getting stuck. We shifted power loads and were able to normalise supplies by midnight. The pylons fell due to heavy rains affecting the lines, but ordinarily, this shouldn’t be the case if there is proper line maintenance,” the Zesa Holdings spokesperson said.
Gwasira also regretted that no one had highlighted that such a large area was without power, adding, in which event, the public would have been informed as “is standard”. Energy minister Joram Gumbo lashed out at Zesa Holdings for failing to apprise the public on the development.
“They should have informed the public. I am hearing it first from you that this is the magnitude of the problem. We cannot have organisations that fail to report to stakeholders, particularly the consumers. I am very disturbed,” Gumbo fumed.
“I am new in this ministry, but I am seeing we have some bad apples in this organisation [Zesa] and if they do not want to work, they must open the jobs for others who are willing to. We cannot be arrogant to consumers. We report to them.”
Power cut abruptly at around 4pm on Friday, inducing communication breakdown as storms ravaged sections of the affected areas, according to the Civil Protection Unit. Power was only restored to all affected areas yesterday at 0018 hours.
The breakdown occurred near Triangle, along the 935 kilometre path of the proposed 450-500kV high voltage transmission system straddling the three countries Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Currently, a lower voltage line exists on that corridor.
National strategic points affected were the Beitbridge Border Post, currently at its peak, Rutenga town — home to a National Railways of Zimbabwe marshalling yard between Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, Chikombedzi and several other service centres in the affected districts.
Zesa at the weekend introduced an interim plan to rotate the power from Orange Grove to Middle Sabi, Mkwasine and Triangle, but this could not be extended further south to cover Mwenezi and Beitbridge, which remained in total darkness.
The power utility, like all other government arms, reels from a shortage of resources, both material and human, blamed on the foreign currency crisis.
It has a depleted fleet and outdated equipment and struggles to meet electricity demand countrywide.
Mwenezi district administrator Rosemary Chingwe said scores of people were left homeless by the storms, and communication with outlying areas was difficult after the power outage affected mobile phone users.
“Several homes were destroyed. I am going out to assess. My car has gone for refuelling in Beitbridge so I can travel in the district, but the situation is bad. I have already informed the National Civil Protection office,” she said.
“Domestically, thousands of people were affected when their perishable food went bad. I was cut from rural outreach communication by lack of electricity power.”
In Beitbridge, several butcheries threw away beef carcases which had gone bad, while institutions like Beitbridge Prison, hospital and the border post had inadequate water supplies after pumps at the town’s supply works failed due to the power loss.
The entire border town had no water supplies and residents resorted to the bush system.