By Andrew Kunambura
The Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC), a subsidiary of Zesa Holdings, last week disconnected power supplies to farms belonging to former president Robert Mugabe and Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa, among other high-profile individuals, over unpaid bills.
They were, however, reconnected after the intervention of Energy and Power Development minister Fortune Chasi.
Sources told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that Zesa switched off Mugabe’s Gushungo Dairies Farm in Mazowe, about 40km north of Harare last week after the family failed to settle an undisclosed electricity bill.
However, the sources said, former first lady Grace Mugabe approached Chasi for assistance to have power restored while working on a payment plan.
Zesa officials also revealed the power utility disconnected electricity supplies to Mutsvangwa’s farm, as Zesa moves to recover ZW$1,2 billion it is owed by clients.
Mutsvangwa is said to have personally approached Chasi.
The sources said following the development, Chasi called senior Zesa executives and ordered them to immediately reconnect all affected farms after her farm was switched off.
“As you know, Zesa is owed huge amounts of money by some of its clients and farmers are among the biggest culprits. So it was decided that there should be no sacred cows and everyone who is indebted to Zesa must have power disconnected at their properties,” a senior official said.
“This is how Mugabe and Mutsvangwa ended up having their farms disconnected. But they are not the only ones, there are hundreds others. However, last week, the minister called management to a meeting and told them that they needed to immediately reconnect the affected farmers and work out a payment plan while allowing them to continue with their operations.”
Chasi confirmed the developments when contacted by the Independent this week. He said he ordered Zesa to reconnect the farmers to avert a potential food crisis if operations at farms were disrupted because of the disconnections, which came at a time the country is in the middle of the winter wheat season.
Other crops grown during winter include peas and horticultural products.
In the case of Mugabe’s farm, the disconnection meant the disruption of milk production.
Currently, the country is facing a major bread crisis after running out of stocks and is solely reliant on wheat and flour imports.
“What I can say is that last week Zesa disconnected several farmers, including some very prominent people who I cannot name, that owe it huge amounts of money in electricity bills. Some of them then approached me and I decided that they should immediately be reconnected while we work towards a payment plan and to solidify payment arrangements,” Chasi said.
“Whilst disconnection is the ultimate weapon where people are not paying, the timing is not appropriate because we are having a food deficit and we need not be food insecure. We could incur further costs at a time we are already having serious food shortages. So anything that worsens it would not be good for us.”
Chasi said he was in the process of tabling a proposal in cabinet for electricity to be considered a strategic input in the government’s controversial specialised agriculture input scheme — command agriculture.
“If you look at it, you realise that costs for water, seed, fertilisers and agro-chemicals are covered under the command agriculture scheme except for electricity which is also a very critical input. So I am going to propose in cabinet that it should also be included among those inputs and, that way, farmers can be able to relax a little bit,” he added.
Mutsvangwa denied approaching Chasi, saying her farm bills are handled by the farm manager.
“As is the practice, farmers negotiate to settle bills as they get paid on season deliveries to the market. I have a farm manager who deals with Zesa issues and this does not involve the minister at all. My manager organises such payments from time to time and he says he is in a satisfactory standing,” she said.
Zesa’s acting chief executive officer Patrick Chivaura disclosed in May this year that the power utility is owed over ZW$1,2 billion by its customers.
He said the company, currently bedeviled by a major power deficit caused by a sharp decline in water levels at Lake Kariba which has seriously affected production at the Kariba hyro-power plant.
The situation has been worsened by frequent breakdowns at Hwange Thermal Power Plant.
The country has had to turn to neighbouring countries South Africa and Mozambique to augment power supplies.
Zimbabwe is importing 400 megawatts from South Africa and intends to import an additional 400MW from Mozambique.