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Buckets and batteries
March 17, 2012, 11:36 am

 

Dear Family and Friends,

It might sound strange but the two most prized possessions in homes around Zimbabwe in 2012 are buckets and batteries. Buckets to carry water and batteries to produce electricity.  Three years after the winners were forced to share power with the losers of the 2008 elections and three years after we started trading in US dollars, normal life is impossible as we battle to cope with massive electricity and water cuts.  The situation is worse now than it was at any time in the past eleven years as now we are paying with a first world currency but receiving a fourth world service. 

In the last seven days we have only had water in our taps for 10 hours of the 168 hour week. Buckets rule our lives and are lined up in order of priorities and of cleanliness. Drinking water is strictly guarded; using it for washing dishes, clothes, bathing or flushing the toilet is a mortal offence. The dirtier the water is, the dirtier the job it has to perform and clean or dirty, every drop is so precious.

In the last seven days we have only had electricity for 46 hours  of the 168 hour week.  All of those 46 hours that the electricity has been on, have been in the middle of the night. Everywhere people you meet look exhausted, have big rings under their eyes and have had very little sleep. In the middle of the night people are getting up in order to cook a meal for the family, iron the children’s clothes for school, change and charge batteries and catch up on the backlog of work on computers.   The power cuts have extended to all almost all areas of my home town and have included schools, hospitals, clinics and all residential areas. Some shops in the very centre of town have had electricity for a few hours in the daytime but mostly they have to operate on generators, doubling the costs of running their businesses. One small scale farmer I met recently was trying to cure a tobacco crop and said it was costing him one thousand US dollars a week for diesel for the generator he was having to use.

This week we heard the very distressing news that Mozambique have cut off power supplies to Zimbabwe. The Minister of Energy and Power development was quoted as saying: "Hydro Cahora Bassa switched off supplies to Zimbabwe on Thursday or Friday last week over the money owed which is around $75 million or $76 million."   Hardly were the words out the Minister’s mouth when they were contradicted by a Board Member of the Cahora Bassa power company. Mr Rosaque Guale said: "We would like to inform you that we have not cut electricity to Zimbabwe. That information is misinformed. "  Well, the information might have been misinformed but the fact remains that we are still in the dark, physically and mentally.

Then, after shamefully making ordinary members of society suffer because of the excesses, abuses and irresponsibility of their leaders, the Energy Minister finally said that they had started ‘vigorously disconnecting defaulters.’ He was talking about our country’s leaders: MP’s, Governors and government officials who have run up massive bills, some of over a hundred thousand US dollars. Then came a statement in parliament made by Prime Minister Tsvangirai who said: “ As Government we call upon everyone to pay their bills, including Ministers and top officials that I have heard are not paying up. …Personally, I have had to pay a $5 000 bill at my residence in Strathaven. I paid and so should you!”

Five thousand dollars for a personal residence, people whispered in disbelief, how many years worth of unpaid bills did that represent. Most medium size family homes expect to get bills of about a hundred and fifty dollars a month so five thousand dollars would represent almost 3 years worth of unpaid electricity bills. Most depressing of all was the knowledge that the Prime Minister hadn’t paid his bill in the first place. Thousands of people lost their lives to get him and members of his party into office: hundreds of thousands were brutalized, burnt, tortured and raped; the sense of betrayal people feel is palpable.

Searching for something to smile about in the whole diabolical saga, a banging came on my gate. It was the electricity meter reader. Well that job wasn’t hard as the meter was completely still, the dial and numbers unmoving. He stood at the gate listening to loud music on his cell phone and when I went back with the reading I asked when the power might come back on. He shrugged and smiled, “nothing’s working anymore,” he said as he went off, singing along to Dolly Parton. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.



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