Zim Power Crisis: largest oil producer on brink of closure

Business Top Stories Zimbabwe

… 17 days without power

Ndaka Majaka

ONE of Zimbabwe’s largest cooking oil manufacturers, Surface Wilmar, says it is on the brink of closure after going for the past 17 days without electricity as the country’s power crisis deepens.

Surface Wilmar Chairman Norattam Somani told Deputy Industry and Commerce Minister, Raj Modi that the oil producer, which shut down operations in January this year only to resume in May on the back of forex challenges, was sending 300 employees back home daily due to intense load shedding.

“We are not operating because of the power situation. This has been going on and it is bad for business. We are sending employees back home daily and it is unsustainable. One day we will just close indefinitely.

“The people at the top have no idea what is going on. Why doesn’t Zesa switch off the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and the Ministry of Finance?” Somani said during a tour of the firm’s Chitungwiza plant by Modi.

The country’s power utility, Zesa Holdings, owes regional power suppliers over US$80 million and is owed RTGS $1,2 billion in unpaid bills by its customers.

As a result the firm has been unable to service Zimbabwe’s 1 300 megawatt electricity demand, leading to acute load shedding which sometimes lasts for 18 hours.

Sumani said the cooking oil producer was also exploring alternative power routes.

“Look, yes we look at alternatives but we obviously can’t do generator power because of the magnitude of our capacity. This is Government’s role and they need to ensure they deliver,” he said.

Presently, Surface Wilmar is operating at 35 percent capacity with normal power but can push up to 80 percent “under the right conditions”, according to Somani.

Due to load shedding in Zimbabwe, some businesses are resorting to operating at night, while others have turned to alternative sources of energy such as solar to beat the power cuts.

The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries estimates that production capacity for local firms has been reduced by at least 50 percent, as a result of the power woes.

Modi assured Somani that the power challenges were short-term and would be resolved.

“The situation is just temporary and government is working flat out to make sure crucial sectors get uninterrupted power,” he said.

Meanwhile Surface Wilmar says it is ready to invest in the agriculture sector if it gets titled land.

The cooking oil producer was founded in 2006 and uses soya bean and cotton seeds to produce edible oils, soaps and other by-products.

Surface Wilmar is a joint venture between the Singapore head-quartered agribusiness group, Wilmar and Midex Global of India.