10 September 2013

Zimbabwe: In Bulawayo, a Decade of Waiting for Electricity

Photo: Antony Kaminju/IRIN
Business by candlelight in Harare, Zimbabwe. Electricity is in short supply.

Bulawayo — Gladys Ndlovu always dreads the dawn of a new day. It always means making a long trek to the bush to look for firewood, the only source of energy for the 51 year old and her family. She's been waiting 10 years for the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority to connect her suburb to the power grid.

Ndlovu resides in one of Bulawayo's sprawling, high-density suburbs, Cowdray Park, which is expanding rapidly. The latest census figures puts its population at over 50,000.

The section of the suburb where she lives has gone for over ten years without electricity, as power utility Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) drags its feet to connect them to the power grid.

While the establishment of new suburbs has decreased the pressure on the city authorities, they're still faced with a long list of people looking for housing. The city council housing waiting list is estimated at 100,000 people.

Poaching wood

"We walk for more than seven kilometres to look for firewood. Sometimes we are harassed by city council game rangers or farm owners who sometimes catch us poaching firewood on their farmland," said a disgruntled Ndlovu.

While alternatives such as gas and paraffin are easily available, these products are more expensive than firewood.

Ndlovu simply cannot afford them and her meagre earnings from her pension cannot sustain her and the family.

The city by-laws prohibit the cutting down of trees and perpetrators are often fined. But residents have long defied the city council on this matter.

"A governance issue"

Ambrose Sibindi, the organizing secretary of the Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA), says that while his association does not condone the wanton cutting of trees, the residents are in a crisis.

"There is a law that protects the environment but residents are in a difficult situation. We do not encourage people to cut down trees but there are people who live in suburbs like Pumula South, Cowdray Park and Emganwini who have gone for more than 10 years without electricity.

"That is why these people then resort to using firewood. We do not blame residents because this is a governance issue," said Sibindi.

Deforestation

Sibindi said there has been talks between the power utility and resident associations, but so far there has not been any move by the power utility to address the situation.

The Forestry Commission's forestry and wildlife ecologist, Mthelisi Msebele says deforestation is a serious problem.

"In 2002, the forests were denser and there was more canopy cover compared to 2012, and that is why we are saying deforestation is a serious problem," said Msebele.

"The period between June and October is the time when we experience a growth in deforestation largely because of wood poaching and incidents of field fires."

Meanwhile, the long wait for electricity continues for many.

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