12 February 2013

Mozambique: Fourth Day of Power Cuts

Maputo — Maputo suffered its fourth day of lengthy power cuts on Tuesday, following the explosion on Saturday morning at the gas-fired sub-station that controlled distribution of electricity throughout southern Mozambique.

Despite all the efforts by staff of the electricity company, EDM, including calling on the services of technicians from Germany, the county where the damaged equipment was manufactured, large parts of the city remained without power for much of Monday, and were hit by another power cut on Tuesday morning.

The commercial areas in downtown Maputo and inner-city neighbourhoods such as Alto Mae were worst hit. Most small shopkeepers have no generators, and so were unable to operate their refrigerators and freezers. As a result fresh produce, such as fish and meat, was at risk of rotting in the summer heat.

“Since Saturday I’ve been without power and this is causing me losses”, Marcos Alberto, the owner of an Alto Mae butchers shop told the independent television station STV. “We have a lot of meat that has already changed colour, which is a sure sign that it is rotting”.

Those traders who can afford it are thinking of hiring generators and freezers in order to minimize their losses.

Even major supermarkets, such as the Maputo branch of the South African Shoprite chain, could not cope with the situation.

Shoprite has just one generator, which is not enough to keep all its fresh produce cold, and sources at the supermarket admitted that some of its meat had already deteriorated.

Due to the feeble lighting inside the supermarket, some clients attempted to steal produce. Three of them were arrested by Shoprite security and handed over to the police.

Hotels and restaurants also had to throw away considerable amounts of food, notably fish and shellfish, which they could not conserve. The lack of electricity also led to a sharp fall in the number of clients visiting the restaurants.

Banks were also affected. “We have no communications”, a bank worker at a nearby branch of the country’s main bank, the Millennium-BIM, told AIM on Tuesday.

Without electricity, ATMs cannot function and so long queues built up outside those ATMs at bank branches with generators.

The lack electricity led to traffic chaos, since the central Maputo traffic lights were not working. The main thoroughfare in downtown Maputo, 25 September Avenue, was a scene of anarchy, with motorists trying to push their way through a tangle of vehicles, with nobody having any clear right of way.

Throughout the afternoon the chaos simply worsened, and the traffic police only intervened to impose order at about 17.00. The result of the blackout plus police inertia was that a journey which might normally take half an hour, now took two hours or longer.

The Saturday explosion killed one EDM worker, who has been named as Isac Vicente Antonio, and damaged three control panels at the SONEFE sub-station. This sub-station handled about 400 megawatts, and supplied all of the modern parts of Maputo with their power.

EDM is routing the power through an alternative line via a sub-station at Infulene in the neighbouring city of Matola, bypassing the damaged SONEFE sub-station. But EDM admits that Infulene can only handle 60 per cent of the load handled by SONEFE.

Load shedding is thus likely to continue until EDM manages to replace the equipment that exploded. A team from the German manufacturer will assess the causes of the explosion, before repairing the damage.

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