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Power cuts hit brick makers

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BY JULIA NDLELA
ONE of Zimbabwe’s largest clay brick manufacturers, Beta Bricks, says the sector has been pushed to the brink by rolling power
cuts.

The power crisis has escalated as demand has been firming, underpinned by public infrastructure projects.

Zesa Holdings, the State-run power producer, has struggled to address the crisis for years, citing lack of capital.

Last week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa demanded concrete action from Zesa, saying it should expand its network in order to meet demand across sectors.

Zimbabwe has been importing electricity from regional power utilities to bridge generation shortfalls.

But suppliers in countries like Mozambique and South Africa have also been overstretched, leading to erratic transmission of electricity to Zimbabwe.

Beta production manager Nativity Mabasa acknowledged during a tour of the firm’s operations that erratic power supplies had stifled the company’s capacity to meet demand.

He said Zesa’s power infrastructure was old and required urgent replacement.

“Our biggest disadvantage is the (old) Zesa infrastructure,” Mabasa said.

“We have had meetings with them (Zesa officials) in an effort to get them to upgrade their infrastructure. It is now old and even the spares of some of them cannot be found,” he said.

He further pointed out that the power crisis was beyond the firm’s control and using generators as backup was costly.

The company commissioned a new plant early this year to try to meet demand.

“Currently demand is at its peak because of (upcoming 2023) elections. The government has projects that they are doing and there are other customers who also have orders. The reality on the ground is that the market in Zimbabwe is growing. That is why we are commissioning more plants.

“We are looking to commission the Melfort factory by the fourth quarter of this year, which will be making 90 million bricks per year, while we are finishing the Mutare factory by August,” added Mabasa.

Beta Bricks uses a natural drying process to dry its bricks and relying on the weather for drying has been another challenge that has stalled production.

“Our biggest disadvantage is that we depend on the weather for the drying process, that means that the environment is uncontrolled and the only thing that we can do is monitor the weather patterns. There are emerging technologies that we also want to adopt,” Mabasa added.

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