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How socio-economic conditions shape renewable energy uptake in Zim – NewsDay

Zimbabwe considers renewable energy a game-changer for rural development. It sees it as an opportunity to increase access to electricity in the country’s rural areas.

Currently, 83% of urban households have access to electricity, versus 13% of rural households. Overall, more than 60% of the population still rely on solid biomass fuel for thermal needs and have no access to clean energy sources. About 20% of urban households use wood as the main cooking fuel because of the unreliablilty of electricity supply and financial constraints.

The 2019 National Renewable Energy Policy identifies renewable energy as a vehicle for providing electricity to millions of households. This is akin to what mobile telephony did for telecommunications. It enabled millions of people to access the latest technology, bringing about new opportunities for development.

The government of Zimbabwe, foreign donors and private companies engage enthusiastically with the notion of renewable energy for rural “development”.

Low-income households are increasingly tapping into new decentralised technologies, especially solar, to ensure entry level lighting. Policy elites (government and international development agencies) consider renewable energy as an appropriate technology that could bring desired change, especially given that they cause the least damage to the environment. This line of thought holds that technology develops autonomously and determines an important degree of social development.

I sought to understand whether the authorities and the intended beneficiaries were on the same page regarding the so-called appropriateness of renewable energy as a tool for rural development. My research found that they weren’t. But this reality is often masked, both in Zimbabwe and other countries.

Similar to previous research, I found that the top-down approach is limited because it doesn’t take into account the views, feelings and context of the intended beneficiaries. It also doesn’t help that there is little understanding by policymakers of what influences the uptake of technology and the interaction of supply and demand.

I concluded that renewable energy uptake is socially shaped. It’s the behaviour of the intended beneficiary, informed by social context, that shapes technology. This is informed by how the technology fits or not in sustaining their livelihood. Therefore, development in the energy sector shouldn’t be reduced to technological sophistication. It should be guided by the improvement it makes to the livelihoods of intended beneficiaries.

Necessity, not choice

I interviewed rural villagers of Buhera district, Manicaland province, south-eastern Zimbabwe, NGOs and key informants for my study. I captured the views of those who were expected to benefit from the renewable energy technology.

I found that the intended beneficiaries were less optimistic about the benefits of renewable energy technology compared to the government. Political, economic and social factors such as inequitable income distribution and gender dynamics determined the adoption of renewable energy.

I found that renewable energy uptake in Zimbabwe was driven by necessity, not choice. Key informants in my study said people in urban areas were taking up renewable energy because of recurring electricity cuts. Rural communities, on the other hand, don’t have access to electricity. So, they turn to renewables.

This isn’t because they see renewable energies as appropriate, as the government believes. It’s their only alternative access to energy.

The irony is that government fails to understand this complexity and prides itself in rolling out decentralised small renewable energy technologies, especially in rural areas.

Asked how solar energy is helping them in the face of energy poverty, one participant said: “Rather we need the actual electricity from the grid.”

Rural people also want energy that enables them to grow their livelihoods, not only for lighting. The common renewable energy technology in rural areas is solar, mainly in the form of solar lanterns.

Beyond a solar lantern most poor households don’t afford solar home systems. This sociological dynamic widens the gap between the rich and the poor.

Renewable energy uptake is a class issue. Having light without a livelihood makes no difference in the life of the poor. The seemingly illogical rejection of a better technology is shaped by context.

This rejection has a gender dimension. In a previous study, I found that women were more resentful of solar than men. Even those with home solar systems felt that the technology wasn’t adequate because their heating needs weren’t met. For example, households couldn’t use electric kettles, do ironing or cook unless there was an additional heat source because one solar panel wasn’t enough to meet all these needs.

As a result, women continue to fetch wood and cook over smoky fires even where there are solar home systems. This defeats the objective of appropriate technology.

Sceptical investors

There are other dynamics at play too. Most local investors were sceptical about renewable energy because the intended beneficiaries, who are mainly rural people, are poor and have no financial security. And even if renewable energy were to be fed into the grid — the grid itself has been designed mainly to serve urban areas and large commercial farms. Inevitably, the expanded flow of electricity will bypass the rural poor en route to the connected areas.

Renewable energy technologies don’t exist in a vacuum. They highlight the factors already at play. Therefore, profit-driven market dynamics and inequality inherent in the current processes of electricity distribution will remain.

I also found that some employees at the power utility considered renewable energy a competitor of the conventional energy sources. A key informant in my study, a Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority employee said:

… I am electricity and I cannot promote my competitor [sic]. To a certain extent, renewables are our competitors… If not careful, they will take business away from us, unfortunately my bread is buttered at electricity [sic] and not solar…

Again, profit comes first before the utility of this technology. Renewable energy isn’t understood in the context of what it successfully achieves, but in how it threatens the traditional monopolistic regimes in the electricity sector. This is not peculiar to Zimbabwe. A significant proportion of the 36 national electricity utilities surveyed for the African Development Bank’s Electricity Index Report cited the threat posed to their profitability by the growing use of renewable energy technologies.

Who should use renewable energy?

Even the smallest solar home system is cost prohibitive for the rural poor. They also need maintenance and technical expertise, which rural communities don’t have. It’s the elite in urban areas (companies, shopping malls) that have the capacity.

Renewable energy, therefore, shouldn’t be sold as an alternative for the poor. For rural communities, it’s only a stopgap measure until they can access the grid.

The use of renewable energy technology must be constructed in social processes.

Meaning the technology shouldn’t be seen as coming from elsewhere to impact on society. Rather, it should be taken as an internal development shaped by its social context because it’s people who approve or disapprove the technology. —The Conversation

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'Pensioners must collectively engage govt on welfare' – NewsDay


PENSIONERS have been urged to unite and call for sustainable monthly stipends from government as current payouts have been eroded by inflation.

This was said by the Masvingo Pensioners Forum co-ordinator Charles Gonzi, who told NewsDay that lack of unity was letting pensioners down.

Last year, government adjusted pensions for its former workers to cushion them against the rising cost of living.

National Social Security Authority (Nssa) pensioners get $80 while survivor pensioners get $32. A few pensioners who retired on good salaries get monthly stipends ranging from $500 to $1 500.

“If pensioners are not united in the manner they approach government, they will continue to be on the receiving end,” Gonzi said.

“We also wonder what criterion was used to give pensioners only US$30 COVID-19 allowance considering that the impact of COVID-19 is non-selective,” he said.

Gonzi said pensioners should also demand non-monetary allowances that they were promised by government.

“We were promised that we would be supported for goat rearing projects, as well as to access loans from the National Building Society (NBS).  However, we are yet to see implementation of these promises,” he said.

Recently, nine war veterans were arrested after they allegedly besieged the offices of Finance minister Mthuli Ncube demanding an increase in pensions.

National Social Security Authority (Nssa) deputy director for marketing, Tendayi Mutseyekwa said there were on-going programmes to assist pensioners.

“The issue of loans via NSB was launched in July and is still on-going. We communicated non-monetary benefits for pensioners and our plans are still on-going.  Some of these projects cannot happen overnight, we promised them, but we did not say they are going to be instant.”

Government recently said it was embarking on a biometric life certificate verification exercise of its pensioners to strengthen the pension management system and avoid paying “ghost pensioners”.

Last year, pensioners created a forum that is meant to lobby pension authorities to pay them sustainable payouts given the economic challenges in the country.

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LATEST: Violent Harare Teacher Gets Three-Year Suspended Jail Term – New

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By Mary Taruvinga

TALENT Chingwaru, a mathematics teacher at the Harare Einstein Tuition Centre, has been caged for three years for assaulting a student at his school.

However, Chingwaru escaped a custodial sentence after Harare Magistrate Judith Taruvinga suspended 18 months on condition of good behaviour.

Another 18 months were suspended on the condition he performs 630 hours of community service at the Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals in Harare.

In mitigation, Chingwaru told the court through his lawyer Joshua Chirambwe that he is an engineer and an unqualified Maths teacher.

In her ruling, Taruvinga said Chingwaru had shown remorse, and that he was a first offender, hence the court had to give him a second chance to reform.

However, Taruvinga said the accused should be also punished so that he can control his anger issues.

“You are a first offender, you did not waste the court’s time. You are remorseful. The court also found in aggravation that it’s unfortunate that the complainant did not sustain any visible injuries, but you must face the consequences of your anger,” Taruvinga said.

“Your case had attracted bad publicity. But you have been in custody from Thursday until today and the court will give you another chance. ”

Magistrate Taruvinga said corporal punishment was outlawed and children must be protected against any form of violence.

Chingwaru told the court he had a toothache during the time of the assault, and the tooth was irritating him.

According to the state on October 14, Chingwaru assaulted an 18-year-old student, who later made a report at the Harare Central Police Station.

Court papers show the Lower Sixth student was found in an “O” Level classroom watching movies during lesson time and he was ordered by Chingwaru to go back to his class.

Instead, the student went to a biology classroom where he coincidentally met the same teacher. A harsh exchange of words ensued, resulting in the teacher assaulting the learner.

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