Living in Epworth, a peri-urban marginalized community has proven to be difficult for many who have to struggle to eke a living during the day and return to the dark and silent homes in the evening. As if the shortage of water is not a bigger problem on its own, Epworth residents have to suffer more when it comes to making meals and preserving their food because of the unavailability of electricity in most of the households.
Lack of sufficient power generation capacity in the country compounded by poor transmission and distribution infrastructure has been the main cause of unequal electricity distribution between Zimbabwe’s developed and marginalized communities. While the equal distribution of electricity within a country is a necessity, Zimbabwe has largely lagged behind. This drawback has been one of the main reasons for the sluggish development that currently persists.
Although the country has tried to cover the gap difference of the electricity supply between urban and rural areas through the establishment of the Rural Electrification Programme (REP) in 2002, there have been loopholes in terms of distribution between the country’s developed and marginalized urban areas resulting in massive inequalities. For example, in Epworth, most of the houses do not have electricity due to what residents described as a cumbersome and expensive process when it comes to applying for electricity installation.
The lack of electricity has led to the perpetual suffering of residents as they struggle when it comes to energy for their cooking, getting access to information, and powering their electronic entertainment gadgets, which are necessary for them to escape real-life hardships they endure on a daily basis. The lack of access to electricity greatly infringes on their rights as human beings.
“In Epworth, almost three-quarters of the houses do not have electricity. For one to have electricity they should have a cluster at their area and then start contributing every month to buy materials like poles, cables, and other related materials and from there they need to look for a contractor and have to submit names to the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA). So that is the process now, and ZESA does not want wooden poles and also they need four lines of wire cables which cost, for instance, $2 US dollars per meter. How many can afford that? Thus most people do not have electricity and for those who have, sometimes there will be no electricity due to power cuts like any other areas,” said one of Epworth’s local residents who identified herself as Sarah Njanji.
The effects and costs of the lack of electricity also disadvantage school children who cannot access online lessons during the recent Covid -19 induced lockdowns and future lockdowns. Residents also miss critical information in the form of news due to the lack of electrical power.
“We are doing that project now and it has been now 4 years without electricity because we had wooden poles and only 50-meter wire. The challenges we then face are that most people use firewood to cook which is a disadvantage during rainy seasons, especially when they cannot afford to buy gas as it is very expensive. Also, technology appreciation and access to information require electricity, and most people here cannot watch television or listen to the radio because sometimes solar energy is not reliable as they require a great amount of sunshine. In schools our children are lagging behind because they are unable to attend online lessons because there will be no source of energy to charge their cellphones,” Sarah added.
Another issue that Njanji raised was that of regularization. She stated that some of the houses in Epworth’s Wards 4,5, 6, and 7 are still waiting for regularization.
“The regularization process in Epworth is unsatisfactory because both the local board and council are failing to properly allocate land. Maybe l don’t really understand how the allocation process is carried out but it seems to have something to do with politics because I don’t understand the criteria they are using when allocating the land, but it is disadvantaging vulnerable groups in Epworth such as the elderly and orphans whom they should be prioritizing. Hence, there’s a need for government to monitor them because urgent intervention is required for regularization to be done properly to improve livelihoods and prevent chaos,” said a local resident, John Nyapetwa. Listen here
Meanwhile, the Epworth local board confirmed the unavailability of electricity in some parts of Epworth but blamed squatters who live in illegal structures for delaying the regularization of some houses. According to the Epworth local board, unregularized houses cannot get electricity because they will be considered to be without owners.
“I think the bigger problem is that people do not have money and the process of installing electricity is very expensive. While vandalism is another problem leading to power outages in the area, the presence of illegal structures has also been affecting the regularization process, thereby affecting the distribution of electricity in the area. However, there is need for proper use of funds which government donates so that electricity is made available and Epworth develops from being a peri-urban area,” Epworth Local Board member, Reverend Masesedza said.
Illegal structures cannot be regularized, hence, there’s a need for the residents to formerly buy land and build legal houses so that they get electricity.
Despite efforts to improve the electricity supply in the country, the government’s measures have been catching a cold from the nation’s deteriorating economic conditions. The government established the rural electrification program, constantly repairs machinery at the county’s power stations (Hwange and Kariba), and granted electricity-producing licenses to Independent Power Producers (IPPs) as a way to increase electricity supply. Hence, inadequate electricity distribution and generation remain a challenge, which without improvement can prevail forever, unless transparency, accountability, and equity are put into practice by Zimbabwe’s electricity generating, transmission and distribution company, the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA). Transparency, accountability, and equity are important principles that when applied, there will be adequate and fair use of funds donated to the energy sector, thus ensuring equal and efficient distribution of electricity within the country. This prevents the neglect of marginalized communities like Epworth in this instance.
While most European and Asian countries like the US, China, and India have made clear progress on expanding electricity access in recent years, developing countries’ efforts, especially Zimbabwe to make electricity available for everyone will need to improve if the country is going to meet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 which aims at ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030. Thereby supporting Zimbabwe’s vision of becoming an upper-middle-income economy by the year 2030 because insufficient power supply in the country presents barriers that impact development in the country’s economic, health, education, and social sectors.