My Electricity Situation: A Journey Through my Mind, Life, and Reality

Picture1 (1) — By Gugulethu from Zimbabwe

This project was completed as part of a special course on electricity in partnership with the Enel Foundation.

There is nothing that can explain the euphoria that overcomes me every time I board a bus and I’m headed to that one place I call home – Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. In the purée of my thoughts I’m often engulfed with the numerous activities that I will undertake once I get there ranging from reconnecting with old friends, seeing my family, and having to devour all of my holy grail foods. More times than not these thoughts are watered down by the sudden realization of the harsh realities of the socio-economic injustices in my country, which is often clouded by my aloofness.

The first thought of these inequalities that make my stomach churn is the numerous involuntary candle light dinners that I would have to succumb to, not because my family is too romantic but because the dire electricity blackouts are the order of the day; it has become the norm. As I sit on the bus my mind often flashes back to a time when I was studying towards my O Level exams. I always dub that time as one of the hardest and most intrinsic parts of my existence. Our country was experiencing our greatest economic recession partly caused by sanctions imposed by the West, and when the West sneezed, it meant that the minorities like us would catch the cold.

I vividly remember how I would get home and find that there is a blackout and I would have to aid my grandparents in gathering pieces of firewood if they did not have enough money to purchase it. This would lead to making a fire; in unfortunate times it would either be raining or icy cold. All of this had to be done on a daily basis and I would still have to study with a candle in my most critical high school phase. I like to reiterate how I could have done better, could have got better marks in my O Level if I had a conducive environment to study in. One may argue through an old adage and even quote Beyoncé that when life gives you lemons make lemonade, but the government officials and policy makers have no idea the psychological turmoil which is felt mostly by young people brought about by the lack of electricity.

As a black person living in a third world country, one is expected to accept the status quo, be comfortable with it, and view it as the norm. Flash forward to Zimbabwe’s current electricity situation, the juxtaposition in the economical inequalities in comparison with my current country of residence, South Africa: the difference is quite alarming. Starting off with South Africa, the load-shedding is relative to where one stays.The rich and the middle class rarely empathize with those that live in informal settlements, who don’t experience blackouts because there is no electricity to begin with. What makes the plight of those living in informal settlements saddening is the fact that they live right in the heart of the urban areas where they can make a physical comparison to the wealthy, where a road separates beaming lights from smoke and dust.

Bringing it closer to home, in Zimbabwe, the supply of electricity is still critical, as ‘load shedding’ is used on a routine basis. It still puzzles me to this day that the only way the government can regulate the power generation capacity to meet the demand is to cut electricity for taxpayers and citizens at large for long periods of hours, even days. Instead of seeking aid from international organizations and external funding sources to step in and sponsor alternative, clean, sustainable, and renewable energy solutions like solar energy. Solar energy has fewer carbon emissions and in the process curbs the increase of global warming and climate change. Still, solar energy hasn’t been deeply exploited in Zimbabwe.

People that stay in the rural areas suffer the most as 19% of the total rural population have access due to the prohibitive costs of extending national electricity grids. In addition, no new developments have been made in the country’s generation sector since the commissioning of the Hwange Coal Plant in 1988, meaning all coal fired stations in Zimbabwe are in need of major upgrades. They have numerous and frequent production stops, or to say the least are not producing at all which is one of the key contributors to the longevity of blackouts. Therefore, this has been affecting the economic performances of food industries, hospitals, banks, businesses and households.

Nobody knows when the stability of various industries in Zimbabwe will prevail but I would propose conferences with solutions that have an aim of boosting international awareness and attracting potential funding sources. These dire circumstances have contributed to a lot of brain drain and young people fleeing to other countries for greener pastures. With in-depth analysis some of these solutions would be undertaken in areas like my hometown Bulawayo and the Eastern Highlands which could benefit from the installation of wind turbines as they have the highest wind speeds. With due course, we should ditch the use of coal (which is one of the major energy suppliers in the country) which has the most waste problems of all energy sources like sulphuric, radioactive elements, excess ash and nitrogen oxides amongst others.

On the note of complexities or inconsistencies of electricity supply, I have missed out on a lot of opportunities as a budding journalist and copywriter. I have to be constantly on the global web researching, have my camera handy to document any news that might spring up, have a place to jot down notes and ideas when my creative muse is on my side. We have had to throw away perishable foods when there were long power cuts, which is always a strain financially, and contributes to excess solid waste being emitted.

One of the utmost complexities of the aforementioned juxtaposition of ensuring adequate and consistent electricity supply in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Africa at large is having inept government officials that over-promise in elections and underdeliver post elections. A majority of African political leaders are unscrupulous, lack accountability, and only when the day comes when they empathize, gain insights and foresights, and put people first instead of their reputation and pockets, Africa will steer towards the right direction.

I envision a time when African policy makers having a grasp of understanding that electricity is part of infrastructural development, making it pivotal to economic development. I have premonitions of a time when there would be enough advocacy to show the need that people who live in rural areas of Gwanda in Zimbabwe and informal settlements in Kya Sands in South Africa experience.

Advocacy and profiling of the statistics of relatives of the man who died due to a power cut in Mpilo Hospital in Zimbabwe. Lest we forget an entire family that died when they inhaled carbon monoxide from sleeping with a primer stove in their house in Marondera. To the man who was given a hefty fine for bridging electric wires because it’s just TOO expensive. And lastly, I live to see a day where crime is not perpetrated more on our women, who are raped, abused, and killed because they were 2 minutes away from the light.

I envision a time when I take my next trip to Zimbabwe with a radiant smile. As I leave South Africa with hope. As I put my earphones in to listen to Drake’s album, I want to sincerely sing along and say indeed ‘WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE’ — in Africa.

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From Peace Within to Progress in the World

Samantha (1) — By Samantha from Zimbabwe

Disability is not inability and this is a fact that many will not understand until they meet Tinashe, a young Zimbabwean male who has defied all odds to make it in the world despite the limitations he was born with. Peace begins from within and this is something he has proven to many people as his current progress is evidence to what one can achieve when one accepts themselves with the rightful support from family and the community.

Tinashe was born in April 1986 and is the third born in a family of four boys. He is handicapped and cannot use his hands for any job other than using his mobile phone, eating and writing. For motion, he uses a wheelchair to get around. Despite the fact that his condition was new in the family, his parents and siblings accepted him the way he was and supported him in any way they could. For his primary education Tinashe attended a school for the disabled where he settled well with the rest of the students. His father was his main pillar and ensured that his son never lacked in any sector of his life be it moral, financial, emotional or parental support.

For secondary level, he managed to attend a school for people with no disabilities and according to him, everyone treated him the same as every other able-bodied person. In 2002, his father passed away and his mother had to step in. In all this, his mother managed to fill the gap and ensure that Tinashe and his siblings never lacked anything. He managed to finish his Ordinary level in 2003.

The year 2005 was the beginning of a productive year for him as he managed to notice a need in his community. At that time a few people had mobile phones and there was a huge increase in the need for communication. With the support he managed to attain a handset and a sim card which he used to start a pay-phone business. In addition, he also sold recharge cards to the few who had cell-phones.

As the years passed by, the viability of his business also decreased as more people started owning phones. Coupled with the fact that there was a huge turnaround and downfall in the economy of Zimbabwe in 2008, he no longer managed to sustain his pay phone business. This led to the closure of his business and he had to have no income for months that year.

With the innovative spirit in him, he did not let the change and loss in business keep him down. In 2009, he started rearing chickens as he saw a need for them in his community. This is the business that he has been doing until now. Per each batch, he rears a total of 50 chickens. In addition to that project he also runs a tuck shop that sells wares and basic supplies to the citizens of his community. All this he does with the assistance of his mother and younger brother, who assist him with the hands-on stuff.

This man’s story inspired me as he did not let his condition be a reason for him to give up on life. Instead, he realised that he also still has the responsibility to fend for himself and his family. Despite the many obstacles he had to face in his projects, he continued to try and is still looking for other ways to increase his income.

Families, communities and countries have the key to progress and development and it starts with peace from within. As one comes to term with their background, ability, limitations, weaknesses, that’s when we can accept each other’s differences, opinions, background and dreams and that’s when we can expect progress to occur in all sectors and communities. If all families were like Tinashe’s family, we would neither have homeless, disabled people in the streets, nor would we have those who have decided to be regular street beggars. We all need support, so do they.

The Death of Democracy

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— by Mark from Zimbabwe

As I lay in my bed, staring at the blank ceiling, I reminisced about the good times we had shared together. We had come a long way together, me and her. I met her when I was born, but only when I was old enough  I was able to understand her. She was strong and free spirited and she had given me hope for a brighter future. With her by my side, I knew I could conquer the world.

Everyone loved and adored her, especially the politicians. They spoke highly of her, and made the masses chant her name day and night. They gave her too much attention, especially during elections and this made me a bit jealous. I was afraid that their sweet-talking tongues would persuade her to go with them, but then again she was a foreigner in my land. Ships had brought her here for the sole purpose of adding colour to our grey and desolate land.

Her beauty was unparalleled, her power was wide reaching and her voice resonated throughout my motherland. I had never met her and this was also the case for everyone else around here, yet her influence was strong. It was like we were in a trance…a trance we didn’t want to break free. Everything in the motherland was done to match her standards; from the laws to the systems of governance. Her standards were the best and there was nothing better, after all those who came with her highly recommended her work in the foreign lands.

We were told that this was the land of ‘milk and honey’. Gallant sons and daughters had fought tooth and nail, they even put their lives on the line to ensure that everyone had a fair share of this milk and honey. Elections had been held and a new epoch had begun, as a nation new to the world of independence. We had been promised a lot and we had expected a lot as well. Constitutions were drafted by the politicians and a government was formed by the politicians. She made her grand appearance alongside of our former colonial masters who helped create this new phenomena. We had embraced her wholeheartedly from the onset and indeed, the future looked bright.

Everything was serene during the first few years but little did we know that the future looked grim and grey. It was eighteen years of self rule and devoted association to her, when things started taking a negative turn. The land was unsettled and a storm was brewing on the horizon. She remained steadfast and resolute, playing her part in ensuring that the masses smiled at all times. However, the politicians were slowly draining her power by enacting laws which went against her principles. The politicians were doing a good job of keeping her quiet. Slowly but surely, they were turning her into that, which the gallant sons and daughters had fought for in the past.

Like a permanent scar, I still remember the day they came to take her away. Men with guns had come in the middle of the night. They had been sent by the politicians, the same politicians who had worshipped her at her feet. They chained and gagged her. Her screams went unheard as no one noticed what was happening. By the time the sun rose, she was nowhere to be found and the void she had left was filled with an eerie air of silence and sullen faces dripping with tears. Anyone who protested against the prevailing situation was taken away. Any form of resistance from the masses was stifled. We all secretly hoped to see her again, but something deep inside of us told us that we had seen the last of her.

So, here I am, a few years later, as I lay in my bed staring at the blank ceiling. Everyone is mourning…we are mourning the death of democracy. Oh, How I miss her so.