BULAWAYO – New Energy Minister Fortune Chasi admitted he did not sleep on Tuesday night after he was handed the tough Energy and Power Development ministry in a mini-reshuffle by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Chasi, an internet star for his open engagement and notable progress made at the Ministry of Transport where he was deputy, must hit the ground running to solve the twin crises of power outages and fuel shortages.
As he has so often done since being appointed junior minister, the Mazowe South MP spent the night camped on Twitter – playing the role of a sponge to unsolicited advice, hearing arguments about why he would fail and engaging some who wished him well.
“It’s certainly not a walk in the park,” Chasi said, surveying the brilliant mess left to him by Jorum Gumbo, who has shunted to his new non-job of Minister of State for Presidential Affairs in charge of Monitoring and Evaluation.
Yet Chasi, a lawyer, insists that “if we put our minds together and put the national interest at the forefront, we will succeed.”
His biggest nightmare is Zimbabwe’s lack of foreign currency reserves due to depressed exports and lack of foreign investment. Fuel is pumped up to Zimbabwe through the Feruka pipeline from Beira in Mozambique, but the foreign suppliers will not release it to the market before being paid – in United States dollars.
With fuel companies forced by the government to sell the product in the local RTGS currency, it means only the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe can turn their RGTGS dollars into United States dollars to secure more fuel – but the central bank, already stretched this way and that way by competing demands for foreign currency, has been unable to keep up with payments.
On Monday, the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) announced rolling power cuts of up to eight hours daily, citing reduced output at both the largest hydro plant at Lake Kariba and ageing coal-fired generators.
Poor water inflows owing to drought have seen Zimbabwe’s water access at Lake Kariba rationed, occasioning the worst power shortages since 2016 following a devastating drought.
The country is now producing 969 megawatts daily against peak demand of 2,100 MW as the country enters its peak winter power demand season, which will increase electricity consumption.
Zimbabwe can increase imports from Mozambique and South Africa, but the central bank is unlikely to have the money. Chasi will also look to speed-up stalled solar power projects – but most are unlikely to come on-stream for at least another six months to a year.
“Even if you change the bar, as long as you don’t have money to buy alcohol you won’t get drunk,” one Twitter user told Chasi, suggesting he would not succeed where Gumbo failed as long as the country’s foreign currency reserves remained in the red.
Energy analysts say he must also allow ZESA to raise fuel tariffs to give the power utility money for imports and investment in existing power plants. Fuel, which has now become “cheap” again compared to the region after the Reserve Bank abandoned a 1:1 peg between the RTGS currency and the United States dollar in February, would also have to go up – with the risk of causing fresh consumer unrest following deadly protests in January.
Chasi is confident that both crises can be solved – and he was already welcoming ideas which promises to be the hallmark of his approach to ministerial work.
“If I knew where my office is, I would have said let’s meet there at 7:30AM,” he said in reply to one Twitter user who suggested that fuel queues could be managed via mobile phone technology through which fuel is allocated to particular regions based on demand, and motorists are given set windows for refuelling after registering their details including location.
“I will apply myself diligently to the task at hand. Impossible equals I’m possible,” Chasi said confidently as he chatted away until 6.21AM.
When one man commented that “somewhere in Harare this morning Honourable Chasi is waking up to his new job in charge of Energy…,” the minister countered that his sleeping habits may have just been rudely changed. “I’m yet to sleep. How do I?”