Zesa Holdings has embarked on a countrywide disconnection of electricity for both domestic and commercial consumers over unpaid bills.
This comes just a few months after Government assured people that the move had been stopped to pave way for installation of pre-paid meters. The power utility has since installed 32 000 pre-paid meters in Harare and Bulawayo since the programme started in August.
Installation is yet to start in other areas.
Zimbabwe has 600 000 registered electricity consumers and Zesa expects all of them to receive pre-paid meters in the next 10 months.
But in a clear defiance of the Government directive, Zesa cut off thousands of defaulting domestic and commercial consumers in the past few weeks.
Several households and businesses countrywide, including those at growth points, have been disconnected.
Energy and Power Development Minister Elton Mangoma last month said consumers would not be disconnected until pre-paid meters were installed.
He said consumers should continue paying their bills because they would still be required to pay up when the pre-paid meters are installed. Minister Mangoma yesterday said those being disconnected should report to his ministry.
"We should first have clients complaining for us to investigate the disconnections," he said. "I can only comment on the issue if genuine complainants raise the issue with us."
Residents in different cities and towns confirmed that Zesa was disconnecting households and industries.
Harare Residents Trust director Mr Precious Shumba said several residents were without electricity after the move by Zesa.
"From this, we are persuaded to believe that this so-called minister's directive was issued without consultation with Zesa Holdings management," he said.
"This is a case of poor communication between the Ministry (Energy and Power Development) and its parastatal."
Mr Shumba said Minister Mangoma's announcement that there would be no disconnections was "populist and unrealistic".
"We recall that the former Minister (of Energy and Power Development) Engineer Elias Mudzuri made such uninformed pronouncements during the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa that load shedding would be suspended for the duration of the games," he said.
"Minister Mangoma should understand that leadership and management are driven by prudent decision-making, backed with facts and a two-way communication process involving all stakeholders in the provision of energy to Zimbabweans."
Bulawayo United Residents Association chairman Mr Winos Dube said the disconnections were a sign of a serious "discord" between Minister Mangoma and Zesa Holdings.
"Residents now do not know whose orders to take because the disconnections have been intensified," he said.
"What is on the ground is contrary to what the officials are saying and doing. If it was not political grandstanding by the minister, then he should have the power to stop the disconnections."
Masvingo Residents and Ratepayers Association co-ordinator Mr Anoziva Muguti said disconnections had been intensified in the city.
"The project of installing pre-paid meters has not yet started in Masvingo and we are not aware as to when the meters will be introduced," he said.
"Zesa is continuing as usual with disconnecting the residents."
When he announced the cessation of the disconnections, Minister Mangoma said those disconnected for non-payment of electricity bills would be connected to the smart meters without paying a down payment or reconnection fee. Zesa spokesperson Mr Fullard Gwasira yesterday denied that they were disconnecting consumers.
"We are following the Government policy and we are not disconnecting anyone," he said.
"The policy at the moment is that we are not cutting off consumers because we are busy installing the pre-paid meters.
"If the contrary is happening, affected people must highlight that to us so that we look into the issue." Mr Gwasira said the pre-paid meter system would move to smaller towns when they secure vending equipment.
"Installation is in phases and places like Masvingo and Mutare also have larger population density and we expect to implement the project once vending equipment comes in the near future," he said.
Harare residents who were disconnected said they were being asked to reduce their bills by half for pre-paid meters to be installed.
Mr Gwasira said affected residents should report to the police.
"These meters are for free and if our staff or our contracted installers ask for any payment, people should report to our loss control department or police."
Zesa's billing system is mainly based on estimates and some consumers refuse to settle the bills which they view as too high.
Zesa says that it is owed more than US$600 million by both domestic and commercial consumers.