Zimbabwe power outage hits mobile phone services

FILE PHOTO: A man checks his mobile phone in Harare, Zimbabwe, January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo

THE full scale of the effects of load shedding hit the country yesterday, after power cuts reportedly interrupted mobile services including EcoCash mobile platform disrupting individual and business financial transactions which could have cost the country hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Government estimates that more than 90 percent of transactions in Zimbabwe at the moment are done through mobile money in which EcoCash is the biggest player as it dominates that market.

However, the reliance on mobile money transactions nearly brought the country to a standstill yesterday when mobile networks and related services went down after power cuts that affected the network in most parts of the country.

In a statement sent to an online publication, TechZim, Zimbabwe’s biggest mobile phone operator Econet, said it was facing a challenge to restore its network after its generators at Network Operations Centre failed to restart following a power outage.

“Our engineers are busy working to resolve a network fault that started when generators at our Network Operations Centre failed to kick-off following a Zesa power outage.

The problem has since been isolated and our technical teams are working flat out to resolve the issue,” read the statement.

Apart from EcoCash, other services that were also disturbed included calling services, data or internet services and most applications run through mobile networks. Last week, mobile operators threatened to shut down their services during load shedding.

They argued that they could no longer power generators using diesel which has also become expensive and scarce in the country.

The country is currently facing electricity blackouts of at least 18 hours a day. During load shedding, mobile operators have to keep services running using backup power generators which drastically increase the cost of keeping the network running.

The backup generators use fuel, notably diesel, which is currently in short supply and expensive.

Sunday News discovered that business in Bulawayo almost came to a standstill at most retail outlets as transactions using Econet’s mobile money product, EcoCash was futile. Subscribers of the facility could also not transfer money to each other while those using Steward Bank cards for transacting were also grounded. Steward Bank is a subsidiary of Econet.

“We are turning customers away at till points because we cannot transact through EcoCash. Our sales have been greatly hit and we hope something will be done soon,” said a sales lady in a retail shop in Bulawayo.

The extent of the hit on retailers could not be immediately ascertained as efforts to get in touch with industrialists and retail representatives were fruitless as their mobile phones were not getting through, due to the communication problems. Others that were affected included motorists who failed to purchase fuel.

The situation also affected social media enthusiasts with the popular WhatsApp also being down for most of the day.

The predicament comes as indications have shown that total power generation in the country has fallen to just 859 Megawatts on Friday, less than half of the country’s installed capacity of around 2 000 Megawatts.

The challenge was caused by low water levels at Kariba.

According to ZPC, Kariba was only producing 392MW, Hwange 418 MW while smaller power stations Munyati and Bulawayo were producing 16MW each. Harare was producing 17MW.

The power situation has also affected hundreds of small business mainly in residential and industrial areas who rely on electricity for their business.

Sunday News discovered that small enterprises such as salons and welders, among others have been taken out of business.

“Electricity is only available between 10pm and 4am daily, so can I shave people at that time? I am now out of business,” said Mr Mlungisi Tshuma, a barber in Cowdray Park.

Some residents said they hope the situation will not affect mortuaries.

“I don’t want to imagine what will happen to funeral parlours if this situation is also affecting them.”

Nonetheless, the Government is in the middle of negotiating with regional power supplies such as Eskom of South Africa for power imports.

Energy and Power development Minister Advocate Fortune Chasi has been to South Africa to try to unlock new power imports but progress is being hampered by a huge debt that Zesa owes for previous purchases.