Inside a grimy flat in the heart of Mbare, one of Harare’s oldest townships, steam billows from a hissing iron.

“Electricity can go off anytime here. We are lucky that today, power is still available around 7am. It is normally switched off at 5am and is restored in the evening,” Chari says.

Zimbabwe has been reeling under crippling power shortages since the start of winter in May. Some of the country’s ageing power plants are being repaired and the rest are struggling to cope with growing demand.

The country has the capacity to generate about
2 240 megawatts of power, but is producing just 1 300 megawatts.

People in Mbare, in the south of the capital, Harare, regularly go without electricity for more than 17 hours a day.

The outages have hit Mbare’s ironing businesses, which are becoming a popular hustle in the suburb as unemployment and inflation rates soar across the country.

Almost 60 people run their businesses from the Matapi block of flats in Mbare, and before the power cuts, they were earning up to US$100 a week.

They support a booming second-hand clothing industry in the area.

Chari and his colleagues are inundated with orders from second-hand clothing dealers who want their goods ironed before selling them.

“Individual traders and companies come to give us work, especially those who manufacture school uniforms. But mostly, individuals selling second-hand clothes are our biggest clients.

“I get at least US$20 a day, depending on how much work I get,” he says.

However, due to the power cuts, Chari, who started his ironing business when he lost his job eight years ago, now earns just US$3 a day — hardly enough to buy a loaf of bread and milk.

“Things are tough. Electricity is our biggest problem here as it can be switched off, with no actual timetable. But during the few hours when electricity is there, I try to work as hard as I can so that I feed my family,” says Chari, adding that the money he earned from the business had helped him put his two children through school.

To make his income stretch, Chari runs a pool table where he charges $150 for a game.

“At least it is something I can supplement the little I get when electricity is restored,” he says.

Tafadzwa Nyakurewa (35) rents two ironing tables in a warehouse in the township, but because of power challenges, he spends most of his day carrying loads of clothes and goods for traders, instead of ironing.

“Power cuts have made us redundant. Business was good before this mess,” Nyakurewa says.

“This is how we survive and if power is switched off everyday we are stuck. I have three children to feed.”

Japhet Moyo, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, urged government to act.

“People in the informal sector are hard hit. They have nothing to earn because their businesses rely heavily on electricity. Something needs to be done,” he says.

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Energy minister Zhemu Soda could not say when the crisis would be over.

“We would not know … because currently we are working on aged equipment. We can only give assurance when Hwange Power Station is up and running … That is when we will have self-sufficiency from internal generation,” he recently told Parliament.

Hwange Power Station, a leading power supplier, has been under repairs for more than a year.

Two new units are being built to increase output, but they are unlikely to be in operation until the end of the year at the earliest.

Zimbabwe recently signed a deal with Zambia’s State energy company Zesco to supply 100 megawatts of power each month over the next three to five years at a cost of US$6,3m a month.

According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, more than 2 800 million people work in the informal sector in Zimbabwe, compared with 495 000 in formal employment.

Nyakurewa used to earn about US$25 a day. Now “if I get US$6, I would have worked very hard”, he says.

“I spend my time mending shoes now because during the day, we do not have power. It is a side job to make ends meet.

Source Newsday