Zimbabweans have gotten used to power cuts, often going days without electricity. After the country’s power generating infrastructure failed to deliver, Zimbabwe turned to importing some of its energy to meet needs. But one by one, regional power companies have been disconnecting Zimbabwe as the country defaults on its bills. Zimbabwe leaders are a big part of the problem - not just in terms of policy but in paying their own electric bills.
Defaulting consumers owe Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, or Zesa, in the range of $500 million.
According to leaked bills from the Zimbabwe’s power utility, President Robert Mugabe and several cabinet ministers owe a big chunk of it. According to the documents, Zimbabwe’s first family alone owes Zesa more than $345,000 in unpaid power bills.
Steven Chidawanyika, the director of information for Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, says the president and his allies have reason to not pay electricity bills at their farms.
"There are reasons why people are failing to pay," said Chidawanyika. "I think reasons have been said by many - who are not myself - it is the effects of [economic] sanctions. "
He gives no estimate for when leaders might pay their electricity bills.
Since the publication of the report, Zimbabweans have not been happy, as they bear the brunt of Zesa’s failure to import adequate power resulting in frequent power cuts.
Because of the sensitivity, people on the streets were happy to talk to VOA but not give their names.
“We have people who are economically disadvantaged who are made to pay their Zesa bills," said one person. " Yet we have people who are able to pay their Zesa bills but chose not to pay. I think it is irresponsibility on their part. I think they shouldn’t be spared.”
Another one had this to say:
“They are living in the Stone Age where they think everything should be for free because they are leaders," said another.
Political analyst Proffesor Garikai Timuri from the University of Zimbabwe’s Institute of Policy Studies says many high government officials may have a feeling of entitlement.
"It is a false sense of entitlement the fact that probably there is this belief that they are doing the work for the government, they are in service for the public, therefore is sense of entitlement that they can go scot free almost everything because they are public servants of a privileged nature," said Timuri.
At times, if not most of the time - even with a paid up bill - a Zimbabwean can go for hours to days without electricity.
Many people have to turn to scarce and expensive fuel for generators.
The power generating companies from the region have been cutting supplies to Zimbabwe, thus increasing the number of hours Zimbabweans have to endure without power.
ZESA is struggling to offset a debt of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Energy Minister Elton Mangoma did not address the debt issue specifically but said he understands the reasons for it.
"They would be facing economic hardships that could cause them not able to pay," said Mangoma. "Zesa itself has not had an efficient system instead of meter reading, they have been using estimates, so some people would not want to pay because they are not sure whether that is correct bill or not. Some of it might be a culture of non-payment so it could be a combination of those factors. "
But Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai - who also just recently paid his own outstanding electric bill - told parliament this month that officials who owe Zesa should honor their debts or the country can expect the worst.
"Services rendered must be paid for if you want the services to be provided," said Tsvangirai. "One of these mornings we will wake when there is no Zesa. So my appeal to my colleagues in government, either as ministers or senior government officials is pay something."
In the meantime, indications are Zesa will continue with the long, unscheduled power cuts.