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We’re spending $10 a day on fuel to keep the generator going, says frustrated Zimbabwean business owner

Zimbabwe’s Kariba Dam is running dry, which poses a devastating impact on electricity production as citizens battle with up to 19 hours of blackouts almost daily.

But it’s businesses in Zimbabwe that are particularly hard-hit by rolling blackouts in that country.

Nigel Mugamu, who runs a media organisation in Harare called 263 Chat, as well as works in the retail industry, (he runs a bottle store and book shop), says in the past few weeks, blackouts had become more frequent, having a major impact on his business, especially as the country tries to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and various lockdown restrictions that came with it.

He says his online media organisation which is based in the CBD is not as affected by load shedding, since it is based in the city. However, he says there are occasional faults, but they are quickly attended to.

The bottle store and book shop, which are located right next to each other are located in the suburbs, where load shedding is more frequent, he says.

“For the past three weeks, almost a month now, we’ve been experiencing severe load shedding, where we are going for 19 hours in a day without electricity and it affects us massively,” says Mugamu.

“We’ve been running on a generator for the past month, on a daily basis, we’re spending $10 a day on fuel, which equates to around R171.29.”

He said they have had to service the generator twice this month already, and that’s an added cost to an already pricey daily fuel bill.

“We have to use the generator every day, without breaks, because we have a computerised system.”

He said they were exploring solar options, but solar alternatives in Zimbabwe were extremely expensive.

“We live in a country where out inflation rate is triple digits, and the bank rate for borrowing is sitting at over 200%, and a person really has to think ‘should I borrow, what currency am I going to borrow in, how am I going to pay it back’, there’s a number of issues that we have to deal with and face, it’s not easy, especially when you are trying to run a small business, you’re constantly thinking, I need that $10 to kick up the generator, before I even sell anything is it going to work today.”

Mugamu said he had to get an electrician to come in, because he had an issue when the power returned, it caused a surge, and it burnt one of the items in the electrical distribution box. He had to replace that a few days ago and says these are some of the unforeseen expenses that he had to deal with and had to budget for.

He said on the home front, he had a solar system, and the batteries were meant to last for five years, but he had had his system in for about three years, but because of constant load shedding, the batteries had given in.

“The cost of installing solar is still very expensive for the majority of people. We’re in the rainy season, so our solar systems aren’t fully charged, which means that the power that we do have in the solar batteries won’t last an entire night.

“We are not able to sustain the power, batteries are charging, but come 9.30pm, the inverter will start beeping to indicate that the power in the battery is almost finishing.

“We gotten used to waking up with no power, luckily we switched to gas stoves years ago, so at least we can still cook.”

Mugamu said these were all additional costs that households had to incur.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring South Africa, the country’s power provider Eskom announced its implementation of Stage 4 load shedding on Wednesday morning, before ramping up to Stage 6 later around midday.