Massive blackout hits Zimbabwe ahead of SADC summit

Harare – It couldn’t have happened at a worse time: with a SADC summit underway and an international arts festival about to kick off, Zimbabwe was hit by a countrywide blackout on Monday night.

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Power flicked off around 19:45 – and in some parts of the country was only restored about 04:00 on Tuesday. Reports said neighbouring Zambia also suffered a blackout.

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Zimbabwe’s state Zesa power authority chief executive Josh Chifamba told state media that the main Hwange and Kariba power stations went down “because of a disturbance on the interconnected system”, the state-controlled The Herald reported.

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Zimbabweans are used to frequent cuts after years of power shortages. But the first inkling that this was something more serious than regular “load-shedding” came on social media.

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Journalist Nqaba Matshazi tweeted: “Looks like a massive blackout in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Couldn’t be a worse timing. SADC meeting, Trade Fair and HIFA [Harare International Festival of the Arts, which begins on Tuesday].

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Even the state ZBC broadcaster stopped broadcasting.

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Zimbabwe business mogul Nigel Chanakira tweeted: “Ordinarily tho in Zim a national power blackout does not [cause] a blackout of our broadcasting services. Somebody asleep @ d wheel”

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Guests in the plush Rainbow Towers Hotel in central Harare used cellphones and torches to find their way around, the Herald newspaper said.

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‘Real cause’

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Parts of the second city of Bulawayo were spared because their supplies come from South Africa’s Eskom.

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Residents of Mutare, on Zimbabwe’s eastern border with Mozambique, told News24 they heard loud bangs, likely from a nearby electricity substation.

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Chifamba told the Herald: “We are yet to establish the real cause but I have been speaking to my counterparts in Zambia who indicated that they were experiencing the same problem.”

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Some Zimbabweans woke up to no power on Tuesday morning. It was not immediately clear if this was because of a scheduled outage or because the fault that caused Monday’s blackout had not been totally fixed.

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@QFYvonne tweeted: “Today it’s business as usual.. that is.. no power.. as usual.”

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Potential embarrassment

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The blackout is likely to prove an embarrassment to the authorities, who are keen to present a positive and united front to international visitors to cash-strapped Zimbabwe this week.

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Hundreds of performers and art and music-lovers are expected to fly in from the region for Hifa alone. Regional heads of state will meantime be meeting for the SADC summit on industrialisation on Wednesday.

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But ministers and other officials are already in Zimbabwe. Unconfirmed reports say some SADC officials were briefly trapped in a lift in a well-known hotel in Harare on Saturday during a previous blackout.

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The Zimbabwe International Trade Fair kicks off on Tuesday in Bulawayo, the state-controlled Chronicle reported from the city.

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“Its visibility and mileage for local businesses that’s at stake here,” economist Morris Mpala told the newspaper. “This is the right time to invest and bring about business partners for future growth.”

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If Monday’s blackout is anything to go by, not everyone will agree.