Bulawayo– The ongoing tug-of-war between the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) and Bulawayo residents concerning the demolition of the iconic thermal cooling towers is fueled by residents’ fears that the rehabilitation project might be a pie in the sky and ultimately turn into a white elephant project just like many other projects in Matabeleland, this publication has learnt.
ZESA is on the verge of destroying the 62 year old cooling towers in an infrastructure rehabilitation process, a move which residents resent as another possible pipe-dream.
The Zambezi water project a.d the eGodini mall project are among other region’s mooted and stalled projects despite their initiation years ago.
For weeks now, the electricity authority company, the Ministry of Energy and residents have been in a lockdown with the former arguing that the demolishing of the towers is a refurbishment initiative whilst the latter is adamant that there is no guarantee the completion of the project will see the light of the day.
Dr Mphathisi Ndlovu, a Journalism and Media Studies lecturer at the National University of Science and Technology, said people’s lack of trust in the parastatal power company has led to this aversion.
“People generally don’t have faith in ZESA, the company has lost public goodwill. So even if ZESA claims that they want to upgrade rather than demolish, which is generally an issue of semantics, people don’t trust ZESA,” Dr Ndlovu said.
He added that the power company also failed to communicate the initiative to the public.
“Further, ZESA could have done better in terms of public relations, in terms of forging a mutual understanding with Bulawayo residents, instead of alienating the people.”
Dr Ndlovu also said some residents are keen in preserving their culture and identity hence to them the towers represent Bulawayo’s history, memory and a particular identity.
“Some Bulawayo residents have an emotional attachment with these towers, as captured by this notion of KoNtuthuziyathunqa. So for ZESA to declare that they are going to demolish the towers without consulting the residents can be construed in some circles as an attack on people’s culture and identity,” he said.
In a stakeholders meeting held in the city recently with Energy Minister, Fortune Chasi and residents, the city Mayor, Cllr Mguni, walked out in protest over the initiative which he said is unwelcome since it was not even communicated to Bulawayo City Council (BCC) and the council engineers in the first place.
Opposition Mthwakazi Republic Party Presiden,t Mqondisi Moyo, said the BCC must have the final say with regards to the towers.
He said, “First we need our people to know that those towers belong to Bulawayo City Council and ZESA doesn’t have a say on them. It’s like me extending the house where I rent. That is impossible.”
“I feel ZESA wants to develop those towers as a desperate way of claiming total ownership of having developed the infrastructure.”
Several residents who spoke to this publication raised concerns with the initiative saying the destruction of the towers equates to eroding the city’s history.
The smoke emitting structures have become important monuments that are iconic and symbolic to the Bulawayo community.
The city earned its nickname Ko Ntuthu Ziyathunqa (a city of smokes) through the cooling towers and fears are that their destruction could as well destroy their historic significance.
Mthabisi Nkomo, a resident said, “The fact that they (ZESA) wanted to do this anonymously, without even notifying the city fathers points out that there is a hidden agenda behind the destruction of our towers.”
“We have been sold pipe dreams before and in the process we lose the little that we have. For instance we lost a proper taxi rank for Western suburbs because eGodini was demolished with promises of a mall but nothing of significance is happening there. We can’t continue allowing the same to happen.”
Other residents called for the restoration of the thermal station to the hands of the city council saying that this will not only ensure the perseverance of Bulawayo’s infrastructure but also it’s culture and history.
However, ZESA insists on implementing the process saying it is for the good of the community.
The electricity authority says the rehabilitation process will only see the demolishing of two towers, leaving the other four. The destroyed two will be replaced by bigger towers.
Currently Bulawayo Thermal Station is producing a meager 30 megawatts instead of 90 megawatts. According to the company, this means there is a loss of $120 million worth of power.
ZESA also argues that the towers have outgrown their 30 years lifespan twice and they now pose a danger to human life and property.
Zimbabwe Power Company engineer and plant refurbishment manager, Engineer Fari Mavhondo warns that: “In case of natural disasters for example a cyclone, these towers that are now weak would cause loss of human life which is the most disastrous effect that can emanate from such. Also, structures and buildings around these towers wouldn’t be safe if they accidentally collapsed.”