The Sunday Mail
Muzarabani North Member of Parliament, Honourable Zhemu Soda, was last month appointed Energy and Power Development Minister. Before his appointment, he was relatively unknown to many Zimbabweans despite being popular in his constituency as well as his home province of Mashonaland Central. Our reporter Kuda Bwititi last week had a one-on-one interview with Minister Soda to find out more about him, including his vision for the new portfolio. Below are excerpts of the interview.
Q: Honourable Minister, can you give us a brief background of yourself. Who is Soda Zhemu?
A: Firstly, I need to make a clarification on my name. The first name is Zhemu and the surname is Soda. I have seen some media houses mistaking the first name for the surname.
I was born on June 4 in 1974 in Muzarabani. I did my primary and secondary education in Muzarabani.
I spent 22 years of my professional life working in the cotton industry; that is from 1995 until 2017. During my career in the cotton industry, I worked as an accountant for the Cotton Company of Zimbabwe (Cottco) in the Tchoda area in Gokwe.
I worked for Alliance Ginners from 2004 to 2017 in my home area, Muzarabani, as regional manager. I have a long history in ZANU PF, having joined the party as a youth in 1994 and I have been part of the structures, culminating in my election as Member of Parliament for Muzarabani in 2018.
I am married, with four children — three boys and a girl. I am a Christian and avid church-goer. Outside of work, my hobbies are socialising, as well as football. Locally, I support Dynamos.
Q: How did you feel when you received the news of your appointment?
A: I received the message of my appointment when I was at an event attended by Vice President Constantino Chiwenga at Chitemamuswe School, which is undergoing a facelift.
I received the news with humility. It was not something that I anticipated, but being a Member of Parliament there is always a chance that you can be appointed whenever a vacancy opens up.
The message of my appointment circulated widely among my colleagues in the party and I had to switch off my phone due to the endless phone calls that I was receiving.
Of course, I was excited about the appointment, but I had to focus on the event that the VP was presiding over. So there were no immediate celebrations.
Q: What does this appointment mean to you?
A: I think I am the first full Cabinet Minister to come from Muzarabani since 1980. So you can imagine what this appointment means to the people of Muzarabani; it is a major achievement for them. Some of them have told me that they liken this appointment to the Biblical story of the Promised Land when the Israelites moved from Egypt to Canaan.
The same way that it took the Israelites 40 years to get to the Promised Land is the same way that Muzarabani has taken 40 years to have a minister coming from their area.
So for me and for the people of Muzarabani, this appointment heralds the impact of President Mnangagwa’s New Dispensation. The people feel honoured and they realise that this appointment is not mine alone, but for them. It has made them feel that the New Dispensation recognises them.
I feel humbled and driven to deliver to the expectations of the President. I am, therefore, highly motivated to live up to the expectations of the President as I serve my nation.
Q: What was the mandate that you were given by President Mnangagwa?
A: The mandate is to participate fully in the fulfilment of Vision 2030, which the President has laid out for the country to become an upper middle-income economy.
My ministry is a key enabler towards attainment of that vision. Electricity is required for virtually every aspect of development and industrialisation, and I fully understand that my portfolio has to step up to the plate.
By 2023, Zimbabwe should be a net exporter of power. I have identified various aspects that can lead to such growth. I have a keen interest in the participation of the private sector in power supply.
Overall, Independent Power Producers (IPPs) are looking at producing over 3 000MW by 2023, so we think that by 2023, the country will be able to produce about 5 000MW.
Hwange is a good example because we have a number of projects that are taking place there. For instance, last Thursday, I toured the ZZEE plant in Hwange, which is 70 percent complete.
It will be commissioned early next year and they have plans to produce 50MW in the first phase and 270MW by the second phase.
This is just one example, but there are many other similar projects where they are integrating coal production with generating electricity.
The expansion is not only in the private sector but on the national grid.
ZPC is expanding Hwange through the 7 and 8 plants and they are now 60 percent complete.
Further to this, there are many other solar projects that are currently running.
We are looking at inclusive growth.
Q: In the past few weeks, we have seen some persistent power outages . . . How are you addressing this?
A: As we speak, there is no load-shedding taking place. The challenge that we had a fortnight ago was with Hwange Unit 5, which had a breakdown.
All this has been rectified and the unit is now back on stream, as from September 5, giving 150MW to the national grid.
Hwange has bright prospects because of units 7 and 8, which will be up and running in 2021, so this means that our power challenges are only temporary.
As you know, we are managing this challenge by importing power from power utilities in Mozambique and South Africa, and we have struck a solid relationship that should help us until we achieve self-sustenance.
The issue of power conservation is a top priority. When we advise members of the public of depressed power supplies, the intention would be to get co-operation from consumers so that they can use the power sparingly.
It is a shared responsibility to ensure that power is conserved and we can equally share that which is available.
The nation requires adequate power which is environmentally sustainable. For now, we are able to get power from fossil fuels like coal but in future we are looking at the more sustainable and renewable sources of power.
In terms of hydropower plants, we are looking at the Zambezi River as a source of several hydropower projects that the country can embark on.
Solar energy is going to be key.
Q: Turning to the fuel sector, we have seen that fuel queues have disappeared. Do you think this will remain so, post lockdown?
A: As we speak, there are no fuel queues to talk about and this is directly as a result of the interventions that the Government has made. Those with private funds are now free to procure fuel on their own and this has increased supplies on the market.
Of course, we cannot ignore the issue of foreign currency, as a country we have that challenge in all sectors. Whatever the RBZ (Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe) is able to allocate is being used to procure fuel. Together with what we are getting through the DFI (Direct Fuel Import) scheme, I think there is enough on the market.
Currently, we are supplying about 85 percent of the weekly demand out of the national requirement of 35 million litres for both diesel and petrol. The bulk of it is coming through the DFI scheme and we will continue to give recommendations depending on what we observe.
Q: The black market has often been blamed for shortages, as some players have allegedly been hoarding the product. Do you think the black market remains a threat?|
A: We are almost stable now. The black market is a result of arbitrage opportunities that were presented because of the previous pricing system. The current pricing, where fuel prices in the US dollar and the Zimbabwean dollar are almost at par, means that there is not going to be much black market activity.
The RBZ’s auction system has brought wonderful results for the fuel industry and I am confident that with the current policies that we have, the black market will remain constrained and things will continue to run smoothly in the fuel sector.