Andile Tshuma, Chronicle Correspondent
SCORES of consumers were left stranded in Bulawayo yesterday, failing to buy prepaid power tokens as the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) online system had some technical glitches.
Enterprising electricity token vendors who somehow had access to the system in the city yesterday were selling the tokens with a 30 percent premium.
Only the ZETDC 13th Avenue branch was open and there was a very long queue of consumers seeking service.
In the queues, consumers were failing to maintain social distancing, with residents disregarding Covid-19 prevention measures as some were not properly wearing their masks.
Mrs Mavis Ncube said Zesa was short-changing consumers.
She said electricity had run out at her house on Thursday and perishables in her refrigerator were going bad.
“The Zesa banking hall in Nkulumane was shut down long ago. We can only buy power via EcoCash, supermarkets or at Zesa offices in the city centre. All other platforms are down except the offices in town. You know how difficult it is to get into town nowadays. Zesa should just get technicians to fix this problem,” she fumed.
Mrs Ncube said she had joined the queue around 9AM and three hours later, she had moved a few metres.
Mr Sipho Nyathi from Gwabalanda said he was afraid of catching Covid-19 in the queue but he had no choice.
“There is no social distancing here. We may all get sick. If EcoCash was working, I could have bought tokens from home,” he said.
“It is fishy that when no one else seems to be able to access the electricity token network, some electricity vendors are doing it. They are exploiting consumers by demanding 30 percent of one’s purchase on top of the regular price.”
Energy and Power Development Minister Fortune Chasi had, by press time, not responded to questions sent to him, while his phone rang unanswered.
His deputy, Cde Magna Mudyiwa said she was not aware of the matter as she had travelled to her constituency.
“I’m sorry I am not sure of what could have been the challenge as I was in the constituency. Perhaps there is a problem with the system. I am driving to Harare and I will be able to give a response tomorrow after establishing the challenge,” she said.
There is a growing pattern of system glitches on the electricity payment platforms as most people prefer to purchase power on the first day of the month due to a misconception that electricity is cheaper at the beginning of the month.
However, electricity only becomes more expensive if a consumer buys more than 300kwh in any calendar month.
Some consumers had genuinely run out of power before month-end and had patiently waited for the new month to buy the subsidised electricity tokens as they could not afford the non-subsidised tariff band.
Most consumers buy electricity using online platforms including EcoCash and through other financial institutions but all the facilities were down yesterday, leaving citizens stranded.
Last month, after the system glitches, consumers took to social media to vent their frustrations, prompting Minister Chasi to say he would engage the utility over the matter.
“I have received many complaints from the public on Zesa payment platforms. On Thursday I will have a discussion with them on the matter,” he tweeted then.
ZETDC last month also issued a statement that its systems were overwhelmed by the high volumes of users purchasing tokens on the first few days of the month, due to the misconception that tokens are cheaper on the first day of the month.
“ZETDC advises that delays being experienced by customers are due to high volumes of token purchases during the beginning of the month and are putting pressure on the system, the position that we are in the process of addressing,” read the statement.
“ZETDC further advises customers that the lifeline tariff is enjoyed once a month when they make the first token purchase of units any day during any calendar month, therefore it is not true that electricity is cheaper when purchases are done within the first five days of the month.”[email protected]_tshuma