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Lighting up Bemba: Modernity creeps into marginalised community

Energy minister Edgar Moyo (fifth from left) posing for a photo with Rural Electrification Fund officials

"WE are now watching television, the boys are happy to watch the Euro 2024 soccer games. It is new here,” says 12-year-old Beyonce Ndlovu, a head girl at Bemba Primary School in Tsholotsho, Matabeleland North province.

She is overjoyed by the new development and her revelations come after Energy and Power Development minister Edgar Moyo has just commissioned a 60KW community solar power plant in Bemba, about 60km from Tsholotsho.

The project was funded and implemented by the Rural Electrification Fund (REF) as it fulfils its mandate of bringing electricity to rural areas.

The Bemba solar project has benefited close to 40 households, a business centre, a primary school and an irrigation scheme.

The project has brought modernity to the community and perhaps one of Zimbabwe’s most remote areas.

“Bemba is now a town on its own. We can now get what we want as power has been brought to this area. The good thing is that this system is not affected by load-shedding,” said Mbongeni Dube (49), whose homestead is now solar powered.

Dube is already into the welding business.

“There is a transport crisis in Bemba. We get a bus to Tsholotsho once or twice a week,” he said.

“Now that we have power, the community is relieved. We can now weld ploughs, among other things. Women can venture into money-making businesses like sewing.”

REF has electrified scores of communities and institutions in all the country’s 10 provinces through the establishment of solar-powered plants.

Speaking during the commissioning of the Bemba solar power project, REF public relations and marketing executive Johannes Nyamayedenga said the development was aimed at uplifting the lives of people in rural areas.

“This is a very important move for the people of Bemba. Power drives industrialisation and it will never be the same for this community,” said Nyamayedenga.

“Now that the community has benefited from this project, they can now venture into meaningful businesses, thereby economically empowering themselves.

“Arda [Agricultural and Rural Development Authority] has already moved in with an irrigation project that is going to benefit the community, thanks to the availability of solar-powered electricity.”

In 2002, government introduced radical changes to the rural electrification programme and legislated the formation of the Rural Electrification Fund, with the mandate to rapidly and equitably extending the grid to all parts of the country and introduce non-grid electricity technologies such as solar to remote parts of the country.

Addressing the Bemba community, Moyo said the implementation of community solar projects would be rolled out in several remote parts of the country.

“The successful implementation of the Bemba community solar pilot project is a major milestone in my government’s quest to achieve universal access to modern energy services by all our rural communities in Zimbabwe by 2030,” Moyo said.

“Through the implementation of community solar projects such as the one we are commissioning today at Bemba, remote rural areas which are far from the electricity grid network can now have access to power, which is just as good as the conventional power from the grid network and can be used in the homes, schools, clinics and at business centres for different purposes such as lighting, refrigeration, welding, agro-processing and water pumping.”

REF acting chief executive officer Fellistus Makumbinde said the parastatal had so far electrified more than 10 000 rural units.

“To date 10 437 various rural community groups have been electrified over the years,” Makumbinde said.

“This figure includes 2 986 primary schools, 1 491 secondary schools, 962 rural health centres, 436 government extension offices, 282 chiefs’ homesteads, 1 193 business centres, 860 small-scale farms, 1 284 villages and 943 other related institutions.”

Today, Ndlovu and other pupils at Bemba Primary School enjoy the benefits of power availability as they spend most of their time in the tiny ICT room surfing on the internet.

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