Imagine that you’re woken up from a deep sleep by the noise of grinding metal, the blare of a welding machine and sparks flashing in your window. You check your clock and its 1:30am. Sounds dystopian, doesn’t it? Such is life in Harare’s suburbs these days.
Working at night has become the norm for Harare residents – the only time everyone usually has electricity nowadays. Quiet suburbs have become busy, putting business owners in the unfamiliar position of trying to strike a balance between maintaining peaceful nights in their neighbourhood and the need to survive.
Tymon Mahanga, a welder in Mabvuku, defended his work saying; “I need to fend for my family, and whatever time electricity comes, I have to make best use of it. I last kept normal sleeping hours in April this year,” he said.
The current long and frequent power cuts experienced in Harare have disrupted people’s normal lifestyles and work in many unexpected ways.
Spiwe Mudavanhu of Mabvuku told Harare News that most residents are cooking food for their children the night before it is to be eaten, meaning that school children are having cold meals for breakfast. She added that because of the erratic power supply she can no longer buy food in bulk and save money.
“I used to buy meat that would last me a month but that is not possible anymore because my fridge is always off these days,” she said. She tried to improvise and dry the meat, only to discover that dried meat needs more energy to cook, resulting in her forking out more money on gas. The only solution is to go shopping every day – which is time consuming – and to buy smaller quantities – which is more expensive. Mudavanhu says the situation is particularly difficult and stressful for women as the power cuts disrupt and complicate their routine and household chores.
High school students currently sitting for exams have found studying in these circumstances difficult. Anesu Chitate, a college student says, “Studying is all about my frame of mind. I don’t like using candle light. Psychologically, it affects my learning skills,” she said.
Mavis Tarusenga, a lecturer at a local college, says the power outages will mean lower exam marks for students as their efforts to prepare for exams are being constantly disrupted. “This is bad for any nation. Students are tomorrow’s leaders and they need a good education to make informed decisions,” she said. She added that some students look exhausted in class, and the lack of sleep interferes with their efforts to concentrate and learn new things.”
John Mhare, an electrical engineer, says voltage surges when power is restored affect diodes and capacitors on electrical circuit boards, which are designed for a specific amount of current. Mhare pointed out that the reduced working life of gadgets means that people will pay more for the repair and replacement of electrical goods that under normal circumstances would last longer. Mhare has a DSTV subscription but says, “I pay for the whole month, but I can only watch for a total of ten days.”
Doctor Francis Ndowa says having less sleep at night can lead to decreased well-being, depression and accidents. “Sleep deprivation may lead to lack of concentration, poor memory and compromises the individual’s general performance when driving or working,” he said.
The dangers of the fatigue caused by sleep deprivation cannot be over-emphasised. Many accidents along our highways have been attributed to human error, fatigue, drowsiness and a slow reaction time. Occupational injuries or deaths also affect the general economy by increasing spending on social services and worker safety.
Referring to the fact that many families now have cold meals Dr Ndowa says, “Cooked food, if not eaten straight away, needs refrigeration otherwise it will good bad.” What this means is that unnecessary medical costs will be encountered as the nation responds to the medical needs of citizens through social services, further straining resources in a struggling economy.
In the event that a sick employee is rendered bedridden for some time, then productivity is also lowered at the expense of the company and nation at large, hence the adage ‘A healthy nation is a wealthy nation’. At the same time, the employee’s earnings are diminished, with a knock-on effect of less tax revenue for government.
One occupation being very hard hit by the cuts is that of house maids. Some households are now considering whether to hire maids anymore. Anastancia Hoko, says she has been downgraded from her usual basic pay, as her working days are now reduced. “My employer now calls me only when there is power. Sometimes I only work a total of four days per month, with a pay rate of $5–$10 per day,” she said.
She says at times she is not called to work at all, or even worse, the power goes off after she is called in, and she has to pay the kombi fare back home without earning anything.
ZESA reports that breakdowns at power stations and the low water levels at Lake Kariba have affected power generation. Most suburbs in Harare have been experiencing long and unscheduled power disruptions as the power utility battles to ration its inadequate supplies.
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