Zimbabwe's power authority ZESA, has been accused of manipulating power output during the 31st July election period, by reducing unpopular load shedding during that time.
The allegations come as the country returned to extended periods every day without electricity, following several weeks of improved electricity output. These massive power cuts, ranging from 8 to 15 hours daily, are also coming without the usual load shedding warnings to domestic and commercial users. Some areas were going without power for entire days.
The Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) admitted in a statement that it had reduced power output from 700 to 200 megawatts over the past two weeks, due to the loss of four power generating units. ZESA claims the situation is being made worse by ongoing plant maintenance at Cahora Bassa in Mozambique.
The power utility also confirmed that it increased power supply and minimized load shedding in the period leading up the elections, by importing additional electricity from the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP). It claims this was done to ensure the smooth running of elections, but some observers dismissed the claim.
One of the critics, Precious Shumba from the Harare Residents Trust (HRT), told SW Radio Africa that residents did not understand why power cuts had suddenly become worse when no other relevant factors had changed.
"ZESA officials have not been forthcoming in clarifying this position except for their latest statement which was released yesterday, saying it was because of their arrangement, ZESA needs to come clean with what happened," Shumba said.
He added: "Unfortunately you will find that most Zimbabweans have become used to power shortages, inconsistent water supplies, the corrupt practices of service provides and policy makers and heavily potholed roads, which they see as normal."
The activist also linked the increased load shedding to recent statements made by Vice president Joice Mujuru, suggesting that ZESA should cancel more than $400 million in debt owed to the utility by domestic users and government.
Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo had last month also ordered all 92 rural and urban councils to write off debts owed by residents for rates and bills from February 2009 to June 30 this year.
According to the Newsday newspaper, the outgoing Energy Minister Elton Mangoma on Tuesday "accused politicians pushing for the scrapping of electricity debts of seeking to benefit personally while hiding behind poor citizens".
Zimbabweans have struggled to live with power cuts and water shortages since independence in 1980, with the situation becoming worse over the years. This is due largely to government neglect of the infrastructure, mismanagement, corruption and the lack of political will.
Unfortunately it is the ordinary poor citizens who will continue to suffer the most, while rich ZANU-PF chefs turn to expensive generators and bottled water.
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