In just about two months since Zambia’s electricity supply company, ZESCO Limited, announced an increase of load-shedding hours, from four to eight, the prolonged black-outs are already having adverse effects on various aspects of everyday life and businesses in the country.
The company had been rationing electricity, through four-hour power cuts, daily, since June this year, thanks to reduced water levels in the country’s hydro power plants, but increased the hours, due to limitation of power generation, according to a statement it released prior to the move.
The company said the emergency situation had been necessitated after the taking out of one of the generators at a coal-powered plant Maamba Collieries Limited (MCL), which feeds into the national grid due to a fault.
In some areas, power cuts go up to 12 hours, and the effects are felt more, by communities which can’t afford to acquire or pay for alternative sources of energy, such as generators and solar panels, which are mainly the preserve of the elite & financially sound.
Some businesses, especially Small and Medium Entreprises (SMEs), such as restaurants, saloons and others that depend on electricity to operate, have or are almost folding, thereby threatening the livelihoods of many families and the country’s economy, given that SMEs, account for about 70 percent of Zambia’s GDP and 88 percent of employment, according to 2017 stats by the Bank of Zambia and International Labour Organisation.
Mary Mvula, an owner of a Launderette in Lusaka, says the number of customers she receives has reduced, due to inability to wash their clothes on time, when there is no power.
Mvula narrates that normally, she is able to wash an average of 15 garments in a day, but with load shedding, customers don’t want to wait for her to do it another time, so they end up taking back their garments.
One piece can earn her about 35 Zambian Kwachas (around $2.7), which means losing about $40.5 in one day. In the local currency, that money is enough to feed a family of six, which she has. That can also help keep a small to medium-size business afloat.
“Some people bring their garments in preparation for a function the next day, but when I can’t wash the clothes immediately, they pull them away and I lose out on the money,” says Mvula.
Grocery shop owners are making losses on fresh produce and dairy products, such as meat and milk, as their fridges defrost, causing the stock to go bad.
Jackson Ndayikengurukiya, a retail cashier in a township called ‘Kabwata’, says the shop he works in, has had to cut down on the amount of goods they sell.
“Products such as Milk have been going bad, while Ice Cream has been melting,” Ndayikengurukiya laments.
He adds that most of the customers who go there, normally buy at night, but when the power is cut that time, members of the public tend to stay in-doors for fear of the dark streets, causing them to lose out on sells, which ultimately makes it difficult to pay rent for the shop.
Morgan Nyondo, a store owner, who has operated for over 10-years and currently engaged in a mobile money business, as well as selling drinks and other foodstuffs, feels the pinch too and says his profits have dwindled.
He is now looking at ways of acquiring a generator, to save his business, but observes that that will push his operational costs up and as a result, force him to increase the prices for his services and products, there-by transferring the financial burden to the customers.
“As a business owner, one has to be ready for such challenges. So to make the business work, I have no choice but to buy a generator, which is expensive and the cost will be transferred to the consumer, through increasing my prices,” he notes.
Fred Munthali, a barbershop owner agrees that using alternative sources of energy is the only way out, but believes the government should come up with a programme designed to help small businesses, that can’t afford to buy such, acquire them on loan or through other cheaper means.
“Big businessmen can also help out, by donating the generators to small ones,” he reckons.