In Zimbabwe's capital and in need of a bath or a hot meal? Call a friend, though it'll likely take several attempts to get through. Power and water outages have revived friendships and socialising in Zimbabwe, homeowners say. People see more of each other during outages that last several days, says businessman James Martin.
In Zimbabwe’s capital and in need of a bath or a hot meal? Call a friend, though it’ll likely take several attempts to get through.
Persistent power and water outages have revived friendships and socialising in Zimbabwe, homeowners say.
People see more of each other during outages that last several days, according to businessman James Martin. He visits friends across Harare to wash after making sure their taps aren’t dry.
“We call it social bathing,” he said.
When the power is out, he also invites himself over for dinner, bringing supplies from his thawing freezer and warm beer for re-chilling.
There was less cheer in the beer this week. With inflation spiraling, its price rose by 40% on Monday, the fourth increase since October.
Martin buys scarce gasoline at five times the official price.
Charges for phone calls have increased by at least 1 000% in the past year despite fast deteriorating service.
Water shutoffs are blamed on pump failures and shortages of water treatment chemicals.
One Harare entrepreneur with a well has begun advertising water deliveries by truck and the sale of storage tanks erected on stilts to replenish household supplies by simple gravity-fed hoses.
Last month, Martin’s neighbour paid Z$15-million ($150) to replace a car tyre slashed open by the razor-sharp edges of a pothole in a main street in the capital. Zimbabweans now joke that sober drivers steer in a zigzag to miss the holes, while only the drunk ones are foolish enough to proceed in a straight line.
City authorities say they lack the manpower, vehicles and gasoline to mobilise sufficient road repair crews.
Potholes deepened by seasonal rains have even inspired leading Zimbabwe artist John Kotze to paint one.
Kotze said the oil painting symbolised the nation’s economic and political decline.
But “water in the pothole represents life. Blue sky reflected in the water signifies better days to come. I’m trying to be optimistic as well,” he said.
The state power utility has warned electricity outages are set to persist, citing acute shortages of hard currency to import power from neighbouring countries and spare parts to fix and upgrade its aging equipment. Zimbabwe imports 40% of its power.
Sydney Gata, head of the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, noted in a recent report the cost of monthly power imports rose from $4,5-million (€3,73-million) to about $9-million (€7,46-million) since October.
He said the utility’s total revenue from tariffs raised only one-third of the import bill.
Gideon Gono, governor of the Reserve Bank, last week predicted official inflation could reach 800%, the highest in the world, by March. Current inflation is 586%.
The power utility has proposed a threefold increase on its charges this month, but sales of home generators from China, heard rumbling in well-to-do suburbs and office compounds, have already surged.
Accidents, meanwhile, have increased sharply at traffic signals blacked out during power outages. An experimental solar powered signal was reportedly too expensive and prone to theft of the solar cells.
Shortages of new bulbs have also meant many working signals show only one approach illuminated.
“You take your life in your hands when you think the lights are down but there’s an oncoming green on the other side and people are speeding through thinking you are on red,” said Harare driver Jonas Mashu.
The nation is suffering its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1980, with acute shortages of food, gasoline, medicines and other essential imports. The crash has been blamed on disruptions in the agriculture based economy caused by drought and the seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms since 2000 in Zimbabwe, once a regional bread basket.
It took driver Mashu a week to find imported brake and clutch fluid for his van. He said he used a viscous and thick mixture of soap and water as a temporary measure, a tip he learned from a mining prospector from a remote area of the bush.
“Hardship teaches us unusual lessons,” Mashu said. - Sapa-AP