Zim power woes spoil World Cup party

The family were on the edge of their seats, cheering on their Soccer World Cup heroes, when the television screen went blank in their Harare home, silencing the commentator and buzz of the vuvuzelas.

“They could have spared us the power cuts just for this month,” said an exasperated Tafadzwa Goliati. “The World Cup only comes once every four years.”

Erratic power supplies have long been an accepted part of life in Zimbabwe, but football fans had hoped the month-long tournament in South Africa would provide some brief respite.

Indeed, on the eve of the tournament, Energy Minister Elias Mudzuri promised that power utility Zesa would suspend its regular programme of power cuts to enable football fans to enjoy uninterrupted coverage.

On Wednesday, Mudzuri was fired from his post after growing anger among World Cup viewers left in suspense by mid-match blackouts.

Even during the opening match, Zesa cut the power in some suburbs of the Zimbabwean capital.

“Any other time we could have accepted it, just as we have learnt to get used to the load-shedding,” said Goliati, a resident in the working-class neighbourhood of Chitungwiza, a north-eastern suburb of Harare.

To avoid disappointment football fans are trekking in their numbers to fan, where they are assured of uninterrupted coverage on big screens with standby generators—for a dollar-per-head admission fee.

“We are forced by the load-shedding to go to the fan parks, even though the weather is not favourable,” said Itai Musengi, who watches evening matches at an open-air fan park in the city centre.

Higher demand for generators
The power cuts don’t spell doom and gloom for everyone.

For hardware stores and small-time traders selling generators, the World Cup power cuts are a boon that has spawned a higher demand for generators, television sets and other electrical goods.

“Don’t miss any of the action!” says a leading supplier of generators in a newspaper advertisement showing a picture of the World Cup trophy and various generator brands.

“Experience zero blackouts with a ... generator.”

Bars, many of whom have their own generators, are also reaping benefits from the power cuts as more people go out to watch the games.

One enterprising shop owner has turned his hardware store into a fan park after connecting his television to a standby generator.

“Some people walk up to five 5km to the fan parks,” said Prosper Muvengwa, a spokesperson for one of the companies that sponsor the official fan festivals.

Switch-off campaign
Zimbabwe’s power utility is battling to meet local power needs and frequently cuts off power in certain neighbourhoods for up to 10 hours to save electricity, a process known as load-shedding.

Among other desperate measures to save electricity, a cellphone operator has launched a “switch-off campaign” during the World Cup.

“To save energy as you enjoy World Cup soccer, switch off all other appliances except your TV or simply watch the soccer at your nearest fan park,” mobile operator NetOne said in a tip to subscribers last week.

Zimbabwe has been trying to lure investors to overhaul its power sector but there has been little interest since the introduction of equity laws to give locals majority stakes in foreign-owned corporations.

Zimbabwe requires 2 200MW of electricity every month but can only produce 1 100MW, importing the remainder.—AFP


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