When midnight hits, most Zimbabweans jump out of bed to make stew, iron their clothes or collect water – benefiting from a few hours of electricity at a time when the country suffers from blackouts.
The southern African country has long suffered from power outages, but the problem has been exacerbated since its main generator, a hydropower plant at the giant Kariba Dam, began suffering from low water levels due to recurring droughts.
Since last week, authorities have imposed up to 19 hours of blackouts each day, with electricity usually turned on between midnight and 5am.
“The situation is painful right now,” said Irvine Magid, a fruit seller in front of a cluster of flats in Harare’s oldest Mbare town.
“We simply wake up during the time when they turn on the local networks to charge our phones and iron our clothes,” Majid said.
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Life has become a daily hardship for most Zimbabweans as shrinking water levels in one of the world’s largest reservoirs cause prolonged power outages and destroy livelihoods.
This week university students had to take their exams in a half-lit hall, and hospitals are sometimes left without water because pumps are out of order.
Zimbabwe’s energy crisis: businesses are suffering
The latest hole in Zimbabwe’s electricity crisis began at the end of November, when the hydropower plant at Kariba Dam had to be shut down due to a lack of volume passing through its turbines, according to the Zambezi River Authority, which manages the water supply.
The blackout has wreaked havoc on small businesses, already battered by nearly two decades of economic downturn.
Barber Charles Svidzi said he had to close his shop because he relied on electric hair clippers and there were no customers at night.
“My clients can only come during the day,” Svidzi explained.
Now he instead offers phone charging to customers, using a small solar-powered battery. A welder who shares his business unit has started sleeping on the workshop floor. It now works at night, taking advantage of the available energy source to weld metal frames for windows and doors.
Most families in Zimbabwe have stopped buying perishable items in bulk, especially meat, and instead ration their daily grocery purchases to avoid running out of produce. Butchers were also hit hard by the outages.
Prince Moza owns a slaughterhouse and says he had to get rid of the meat, which was beginning to decompose.
Sometimes there will be no money to buy diesel for generators and meat to spoil. In such cases, we throw away the meat or sell it cheaply.”
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The government has acknowledged that the crisis is disrupting daily life.
Power outages cause distress, inconvenience, and cost to citizens and businesses. Government spokesman Nick Mangwana said in a tweet this week.
Senior government official Gloria Magombo said on Tuesday that the country imports electricity from South Africa – which also suffers from frequent power shortages due to aging and poorly maintained plants.
It also supplemented supplies with imports from Mozambique and Zambia. But Zambia, which shares the Kariba reservoir, said it, too, would begin power cuts of six hours per day from mid-December.
Zimbabwe also generates power from Hwange – the largest coal-fired power plant – but the plant is currently operating at less than half its capacity due to poor maintenance.
“This is a crisis situation,” Zimbabwe’s Energy Minister Soda Zemo told a news conference last week, adding that the Kariba plant would be completely shut down over the Christmas period until the water situation improves.