Gone Fishing

Over the past weekend we travelled to Kariba and spent four nights at Masango Camp near Bumi Hills. The Camp is now 25 years old and was built in a very clever way – I kept noticing features that showed a great deal of good design and planning. The owners were in Camp with us – the Edwards and the staff were just great – most were local Tonga. The food was outstanding – the product of a Chef who was trained in the Camp from a job washing boats!

Steve is ex National Parks and a conservationist of note – trying to maintain a no hunting zone of 5 kilometers around the camp for the game that is still left. It is a struggle they are not winning and elephant numbers are down 80 per cent in the past decade. Still we heard lion, saw elephants every day and bushbuck, waterbuck and impala. The fishing was amazing – one morning my Grandson Keith (12) and I with a guide took nearly 50 kilos of bream in three hours, mostly Niloticus or local cross breeds. We saw dozens of large crocodiles and hippo.

Kariba is 5000 square kilometers of water – that is nearly 300 000 hectares. Even at about 85 per cent full, it is a massive lake, one of the biggest in the world, held back by a concrete arch wall that took four years to construct and started filling in 1958. I was the Land Development Officer in Gokwe during that era and was responsible for moving the Tonga out of the river valley to higher ground and I know the area well. It is spectacular country and all who have lived there, for whatever reason, become very attached to the Valley (as it is called) and its environs.

In recent years over use of the water in the lake for hydro electricity production has led to a precipitous decline in lake levels – at one stage we were just one metre above the intakes to the turbines. Despite the severe drought in Zimbabwe, the lake is rising fast – while we were in Camp it rose on average at 4 cms a day. That is a massive amount of water intake and it is all coming from the Falls and the upper Zambezi basin in Zambia, Angola and the Congo. I understand that water levels in the upper Zambezi and on the flood plains that feed the river are 60 per cent above normal.

Even so the dam is not expected to reach full capacity and spillage is unlikely. Just as well as the wall needs repairs to the still pond below the wall which has been eaten away in previous years when the lake spilled. What they have to do is quite spectacular in its self – they have to build a coffer dam just before the outlets to the turbines, then pump the pond dry and cast a concrete face wall on the rock wall below the dam foundations and then excavate 300 000 tonnes of rock from the river base on the downstream side to ensure that the scouring motion of the spillage does not continue to undercut the wall.

The Dam and its associated power stations are critical to both Zambia and Zimbabwe – Zambia draws 85 per cent of its power needs from hydro stations and we draw about half of our needs. But what is more important is that once the expansion in generating capacity is completed we will be able to generate 2200 megawatts of electricity at peak and this will enable us to meet peak demands in both countries. Base loads to be met by coal fired stations. The Dam produces some of the cheapest electricity in the world and that adds to its value to us, it was a wonderful investment.

Another feature of the Dam and its importance to us; is the very clever way in which the Chief Executives of the power utilities in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia are managing electricity supplies right now. I think the idea came from the new CEO of Eskom in South Africa. He suggested pulling an old coal fired station in South Africa out of mothballs and selling the power generated to Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana via the Central African Power Pool located in Harare.

We contracted to take 300 megawatts at 13,5 cents a KwH on a continuous basis – that is expensive power but probably what it costs, and this together with our own 4 coal fired stations has enabled us to meet our base load demand (probably about 1000 megawatts). Then the two countries managing the Kariba system have started doing what they should have been doing for years – shutting it down at night and then starting it up early each day and running up to capacity to meet peak demand. As a result, combined with a steep decline in demand in both countries due to the recession, we have suddenly had power 24/7.

Simple! Management – what a difference it can make, it’s the key to everything. The new CEO of Eskom came out of the SA Reserve Bank so knowledge of the sector is not essential – just a decent manager of money and people.

The other thing we observed as we travelled to and from Kariba, was the heavy duty traffic on the Chirundu road. My grandson counted all the 30 tonne rigs we passed on the way to Kariba and back. We then calculated daily traffic levels. We worked out that 1400 30 tonne rigs crossed the border every day – roughly one a minute on the road. That is 450 000 tonnes of cargo a month plus all the other traffic and busses. The situation at Beitbridge and at Forbes (Mutare) is the same.

Looking at a recent World Bank report on Africa, I saw that they estimate our costs of transit for imports and exports is three times to costs of Asia and double the costs of the USA and Europe. It is easy to see why when we are hauling fuel for the Congo from Beira by road – or worse still, from Durban. Fuel should be transported by pipeline – average costs 1,5 cents per tonne/kilometer. Railways from 3 cents to 8 cents per tonne/kilometer and road 12 to 15 cents per tonne/kilometer.

Right now our railways are totally closed down by a strike that has been going on for weeks, workers are not being paid their salaries and we only have a handful of functioning locomotives. As a regional hub, we are failing completely in our efforts to maintain a cost effective transport system that will enable our economies to grow and this affects perhaps 150 million people. It all comes back to management – in any firm that reached this level of incompetency and failure, the management would be dismissed and a new team appointed. Here we carry on as if these things do not matter, unfortunately they do.

Eddie Cross
Harare, 30th April 2016