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Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Cathy's letter from Zimbabwe

Here is Cathy's letter:

Dear Family and Friends,

There’s nothing that can put Zimbabweans into a bad mood quicker than no water or no electricity. Put the two together and you can almost see people’s blood pressure rising. A collapse of the national electricity grid on Wednesday plunged most of the country into the dark.

That night the clatter of generators rang out from every direction; the noise was deafening and the air vibrated! ZBC TV ran a crawl line on the screen during the main evening news bulletin calling for people to switch off their geysers and lights to save electricity. What electricity, we all shouted, as we watched battery powered TV’s, because there was no electricity to save.

Ironically the national black out came in the same week that the protest group WOZA delivered 101,000 petition signatures to parliament In Harare for presentation to the Anti Corruption and Monopolies Committee due to sit during the week. WOZA’s ‘anti abuse of power’ petition has long been calling for reduced electricity charges and for a pre-paid metering system to be introduced.

In my home town, calls to the local electricity supply office resulted in a variety of reasons for what very rapidly degenerated into rolling 18 hour a day power cuts.

We were told that the hydro electricity generators at Kariba Dam were being maintained, then that the thermal units at Hwange weren’t working and finally, the clearest of all reasons given was that there just wasn’t enough electricity in the country.

An article in the press later in the week quoted a Zesa spokesman as saying there was “an unstable grid, resulting in the disconnection of inter connectors.’ The article spoke about a two hour national blackout but in many places it seems the inter connectors are still disconnected because we are still in the dark!

In my home town the power cut continued for the next three days.

Lights flickered on between 11pm and midnight and went off again a few hours later, long before sunrise. If you are lucky it flicks on for an hour or two in the afternoon but don’t bank on it! Coping with five hours of electricity a day, and then only in the middle of the night, is gruelling. We had got used to this a couple of years ago when daily extended power cuts were the norm but it comes as a shocker this time round when many of us are woefully unprepared.

You can hardly hear yourself think, let alone hold a conversation with anyone as you walk around town, negotiating the smoking, roaring generators that clutter the pavements. Everywhere except the government buildings that is, where the norm is, as always, no change.

Outside the passport office people are ordered to queue on the other side of the road providing a deadly hazard for drivers when suddenly a score or more surge across the road, running to be allowed in the gate in small batches.

At the Post Office where civil servants and pensioners get their monthly payments, it is utter mayhem which is embarrassing and shameful to witness. With nowhere to sit or shelter, hundreds crowd the car park, pavements and road, standing for hours at a time in the full sun waiting to get their meagre salaries or even more meagre pensions. Payments seem to be dependent on electricity to power computers and people wait without apology or explanation from officials within.

To all this mayhem add no water. No electricity means no water can be pumped and for three days my home town has been bone dry. Not a drop in any tap, sink or toilet. Everywhere we go we apologise to people for smelling and at every stream and shallow well, crowds of women scoop water out into containers to carry home.

A borehole has been sunk in the town’s green, a small park which used to have pretty gardens, lawns and benches. Now lines of people wait their turn to get to the hand pump and draw a few litres of water to carry home. The lawns have turned to dust and the plastic water containers are piled up where once the flower beds were.

When you have to physically carry every litre of water that you need, everything takes on a very different perspective.

Hard to believe that life is still like this, two and a half years into our so called unity government. Even harder to explain to outsiders who say: but everything’s OK in Zimbabwe now isn’t it?

Far from it and after a bad week it seemed inevitable that something daft would happen and it did, on Friday. An announcement came from Zesa – the electricity supplier with no electricity to supply. They said that tariffs are to increase by 31% from the 1st of September.

Pay more for less must be their new slogan.

Until next time, thanks for reading,


Cathy Buckle. 27 August 2011.

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