Pamela Shumba, Senior Reporter
HUNDREDS of electricity users were left stranded at the weekend after cash power prepaid electricity selling points went offline countrywide.
The network was down since Saturday morning, forcing customers to move from one selling point to the other with no luck.
Some residents said they spent more than 24 hours without power, as they ran out of credit while all electricity selling points were offline.
Others called relatives and friends out of town for help only to find out the problem was countrywide.
A few customers in Bulawayo managed to buy electricity from the ZETDC Richmond Revenue Hall in the city centre yesterday, which closed at 1PM.
Econet’s mobile electricity selling platform, EcoCash sent SMS messages to its customers yesterday afternoon, saying they were battling to restore network.
“Dear customer. Our apologies, Zesa prepaid electricity tokens are currently unavailable due to system challenges. We will advise once normal services are restored,” read the message.
Zesa western region general manager Mr Lovemore Chinaka confirmed the breakdown, saying the parastatal’s IT department in Harare was in the process of restoring the system.
“There has been a breakdown of communication between us and third party selling points. Our IT department is working on it and I’m sure the system will be up and running soon,” said Mr Chinaka.
Cashiers at the selling points told Chronicle that the problem was with Zesa and all they could do was to wait for the power utility to restore the services.
A majority of cash power customers interviewed by the Chronicle said buying electricity tokens was often a hustle after hours because most selling points went offline once Zesa offices close.
A customer from Ascot, Mr Trevor Ngwenya attacked Zesa for the poor service, saying the power utility should come up with alternatives so that people are not cut off.
“This is such a huge inconvenience. It has been going on for quite a while now. When I went to buy cash power prepaid electricity at a nearby supermarket I was told that the network was down and will have to try later or go somewhere else. I went to four other places and they were also offline.
“I have been without electricity several times due to this network problem. I once went to Zesa and requested to be put back to the old billing system and I was told it is not possible to do that,” said Mr Ngwenya.
He said he felt short changed by the Zesa system, which creates an impression that electricity can be bought anywhere and anytime, yet it’s not the case.
Another stranded customer, Mrs Thobekile Sibanda, who stays in the city centre, said she spent the whole weekend with no electricity due to the network problem.
“Zesa should do something about this. Their system was down the whole weekend. When I first tried to buy electricity I thought it was a temporary network problem. I spent the whole day moving from one selling point to the other.
“I didn’t know things can be this bad. Maybe we should do away with these selling points so that we’re not fooled.
“When the network is okay most of them don’t accept payment through EcoCash while their swiping machines sometimes reject some bank cards, forcing cashiers to demand cash, which is not always available,” said Mrs Sibanda.
Since the start of Zesa’s prepaid meter system in 2013, 576 000 prepaid electricity meters have been installed by the power utility in homes and business premises throughout the country against a targeted figure of 800 000 by 2018.