SOON after Fortune Chasi was sworn in as Energy minister in May, he admitted that the country was in a rut. In spelling out his immediate plan to avert power shortages, Chasi vowed to skin a live snake in finding lasting solutions to the crisis. By putting his head on the block, Chasi knew the task at hand — skinning a live snake could be fatal — but the mission had to be accomplished. He ran under the banner kugona basa kuriita (the taste of the pudding is in eating). His “wonders” as Transport deputy minister got him the moniker Chibabest (wizard).
Social media went on overdrive, suggesting that Chasi would make a good presidential candidate for Zanu PF in the 2023 elections.
Chasi said for the country to move out of this mess, there was need to deal with the supply side as well as the demand side of power. The Mazowe South MP declared that those who owe Zesa, including government departments, need to pay. “We have engaged other government wings, particularly the Finance ministry and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, to find creative ways to deal with the debt owed by the government ministries,” he was quoted saying.
While his intentions to clean the energy sector are noble, he should be warned that the task is insurmountable. The country is besieged by critical power shortages, with some areas experiencing load-shedding for up to 18 hours a day. Fuel remains a scarce despite the liberalisation of the sector.
Former presidential adviser Chris Mutsvangwa last year torched a storm when he claimed that Sakunda Holdings was now a cartel dominating the industry and involved in State capture. Kuda Tagwirei, a Zanu PF benefactor, whose company controls the Beira-to-Harare pipeline that supplies Zimbabwe with most of its fuel, is said to be resisting the construction of the second pipeline that will reach as far as Botswana.
The businessman reportedly argues that his company poured in millions of dollars in the refurbishment of the pipeline and did not want the Sakunda monopoly broken. In other words, Mutsvangwa was accusing Sakunda of abusing its monopoly. Whether these allegations are true or not, its fodder for another day, but what is obtaining in the fuel sector shows that something fishy is happening behind the scenes. Billy Rautenbach’s Greenfuel is the only local supplier of ethanol used for fuel blending. In 2013, government enforced mandatory ethanol blending for fuel, which is meant to reduce costs.
Greenfuel is selling ethanol to the government at prices three times higher than the landing price of the liquid from Brazil. Such monopoly can open avenues for corruption because government cannot buy expensive ethanol when there were cheaper alternatives. Tagwirei and Rautenbach are said to be getting protection from the State because they at times reportedly fund government and Zanu PF programmes.
A peep into Auditor-General Mildred Chiri’s report shows that Zesa, a State entity under Chasi’s purview, is also rotten to the core. The ZETDC, a wholly-owned Zesa subsidiary, in 2010 paid US$4,9 million to Pito Investments for the delivery of transformers. Pito Investments never took delivery of the transformers. It is also reported that Zesa is being weighed-down by outstanding payments in access of US$1 billion, of which Zanu PF apparatchiks owe a large chuck. At the end of the day, Zimbabweans can’t suffer because of a few individuals – a live snake has to be skinned.
For Chasi to succeed in cleaning the sector, he needs to take heed of Jesus’ wise counsel as doing so might have dire consequences. Before dispatching his disciples in Mathew 10:16, Jesus used a simile and warned: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: Be you therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Before He tells them to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, Jesus warns them that they were being sent out “like sheep among wolves”.
The world, then as now, was hostile to believers. Wolves are usually intentional about the harm they inflict on sheep. In such an environment, the question becomes how can we advance the kingdom of God effectively without becoming predatory ourselves? By using the simile, the Son of Man invoked the common proverbial view of serpents and doves. The serpent is believed to be “crafty” or “shrewd”. On the other hand, the dove represented innocence and harmlessness. Doves are among “animals regarded sa clean”, no wonder they are used for sacrifices (Leviticus 14:22). Up to this very day, doves symbolise peace and snakes are regarded as “sneaky”.
For disciples to succeed in their mission, Jesus urged them to combine the shrewdness of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove. Likewise, for Chasi to break the energy sector conundrum, there is need to be tact, smart and to strike with speed.
Two months after Chasi assumed office, power outages have increased and fuel price hikes are effected fortnightly. This is a recipe for disaster. These damaging power cuts will result in Zimbabwe’s capacity utilisation tumbling.
Generators can’t fix the economy. This is a case of killing the goose that lay the golden eggs. Maybe the proverbial snake is eluding Chasi. German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche aptly put it right when he said: “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
The energy sector is an economic enabler, so if it remains is sixes and sevens as is the case now, then the country should kiss goodbye to the much-needed investors. It is the big chefs in the energy sector and those who owe Zesa who are sabotaging efforts to resuscitate the economy. Heads must roll. As long as the Second Republic does not solve the political conundrum, then snakes will remain elusive to Chasi. The Energy minister is likely to fall from hero to zero. All the best Chibabest, kugona basa kuriita!
Cliff Chiduku is a journalist. He writes in his personal capacity.