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Darkness on the city’s edge

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NO POWER—Some of the affected houses

Residents of some areas outside Lilongwe City had electricity connected to their houses and disconnected, even when they owed Escom no bills. MATHEWS KASANDA writes.

A few kilometres from Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe, some families in 11 villages are living in the dark despite that they have power lines connected to their houses.

Others have been waiting for as long as seven years to have power connected to their homes.

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“After using electricity, supplied by the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi [Escom] for three years, I was shocked one day last year to see Escom officials coming to our area to disconnect power from all houses.

“Apparently, the connection was a mistake,” Christopher Zaulombo, a resident of Chiuzira Village, which is among those affected, says.

Apparently, the villages are “out of range” and cannot be connected to the Escom grid, according to what locals there were told.

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Zaulombo has a refrigerator, a television set and other electric appliances that are lying idle in his house.

When we visited the affected villages, we found his wife cooking nsima using charcoal as fuel despite having a cooker which proved efficient the time the house had power connected.

“My worry is that these electric appliances will get damaged and may not work even if electricity is reconnected to my house. I have children who no longer spend time at home because there is no entertainment here,” Zaulombo says.

Some homeowners have been waiting for seven years to have power connected to their houses after applying to Escom.

For Zaulombo, a line is still connected to his house but power was disconnected at the Escom pole 50 metres from the house.

In his village, electricity poles brought by the power supplier lie abandoned.

Some poles which were already erected in various spots have been uprooted because “it was a mistake that the poles were put there in the first place”.

There is also an Escom sub-power station in the area and plenty of power lines stretching above nearby houses.

Residents say, during meetings arranged before the power station was planted in the area, locals were promised they would benefit from the project “but the opposite happened”.

The residents claim they were planning to shut down the plant because they were not benefitting from its presence in their area.

Women cover several kilometres to the nearest maize mill because they do not have any in their area.

“Sometimes, we send bicycle taxi operators to the maize mill so they can do what we do but sometimes we don’t have enough money. So, we are forced to spend hours at the maize mill while other chores suffer at home,” Fanny Kumwenda says.

She also has an electric cooker, a refrigerator and other equipment which she no longer uses because of lack of electricity in the house.

Her efforts to power the house using a diesel generator have proved too expensive for Kumwenda’s family.

Apparently, she has been given four different connection reference numbers by Escom but getting connected has proven impossible.

“We are struggling to cook using charcoal and firewood which are difficult to get. Escom says the transformer in the area cannot take any more connections, yet some houses are being connected from the same transformer,” Kumwenda says.

Village Head Manyungwa, whose area is one of the affected, claims he is under pressure from his subjects who want him to give answers from authorities on why their houses are not being connected.

He says his trips to Escom to find out what is happening regarding connecting power to households in his village have not borne any fruits.

“It just does not make sense for Escom to say connections were illegal when they are the ones who did the connections, issued account numbers and erected poles from where lines stretched to the houses,” says Gladys Mkwichi from another affected village.

Asked why Escom disconnected power to the said villages, the corporation’s Public Relations Manager, Innocent Chitosi, said the affected line was constructed illegally.

“We disconnected the whole line to investigate the circumstances surrounding its construction. We are assessing the supplies to determine which customers can be supplied after following proper procedures.

“Customers who occasioned the illegal connections will have to pay their penalties before being considered. Escom workers who were involved in this crime are facing disciplinary actions,” Chitosi said.

But those innocently affected by the said crime are angry that they are being punished for issues that they know nothing about.

They say the time their houses have been without power is too long.

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