Saturday 1 February 2020


In November, Dr Sydney Gata (SG) was appointed executive chairman of Zesa in a move that was criticised by many. Two months into his reign, Dr Gata says he has a clear vision to transform Zesa and address the country’s biting power supply challenges.

Sunday Mail Chief Reporter Kuda Bwititi (KB) spoke to Dr Gata on the situation at the power utility as well as his vision to revive Zesa.

KB: Your appointment was greeted with criticism from some quarters with some openly saying it was akin to recycling dead wood. What is your response to the criticism? 

SG: This is not the first time that my appointments have been criticised. When I was first appointed as the first black lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe’s Faculty of Engineering, as well as the first black non-executive director of the then Electricity Supply Commission (ESC) in September 1981, there was a lot of acrimony.

Since then, I have been appointed board member of the Central African Power Corporation (1983-1989), the first black general manager of ZESA (1986-1992), Zambezi River Authority board member (1989-1991), ZESA executive chairman (2000-2002), ZESA Holdings executive chairman (2002-2006) and founding chairman of the then Rural Electrification Fund.

So my record speaks for itself, and I challenge anyone who says I am incompetent. I have four degrees in engineering and science from internationally renowned institutions. So not only am I qualified for the job, but I have a passion for engineering.

What should be understood clearly is that I have never appointed myself to these positions. All these appointments were by invitation. That shows that those who have appointed me are confident of my track record, which is there for everyone to scrutinise. 

KB: What is your response to those who say you are an old hand with few ideas and that the post of executive chairman goes against the principles of good corporate governance?

SG: I was accused by a judge of being too young in 1985 to be a chief executive, now I am being told I am too old for the same. I am very proud to have been recalled, for the fourth time to rescue the national power supply system. It should be noted that my appointment as executive chairman is the third such appointment to the same position and the position was confirmed by a Cabinet resolution.

KB: Since your appointment, what have been the immediate issues that you have been seized with at ZESA?

SG: There was the issue of staff and human resources management. The standard process and procedures that had been developed for many years had been destroyed. Morale was indescribably low. I also found out that there was no longer the threshold minimum density of techno-industrial skills necessary to operate a viable national power supply service.

There was widespread loss of key staff and professionals. As of late last year, I discovered that Eskom of South Africa has over 450 ex-Zesa technical and professional experts that we trained and developed for many years. In the United Kingdom, there are 72 graduate engineers at just one institution, while in Australia one provincial utility has 65. What this means is that operations and developments have been disturbed and we now have less than the correct level of engineering development in the operations of Zesa.

Maintenance has suffered, customer service has suffered and development has suffered, out of which my strategy is to re-establish an intensive capacity building roadmap. 

KB: What is your plan to revive this low staff morale and brain drain?

SG: We launched a three-day general assembly of Zesa employees and their managers drawn from every corner of Zimbabwe, who have assembled here for an historic summit, where all the grievances that have been expressed and were not attended to over the years, including the 2012 collective bargaining dispute, have been recompiled into an encyclopedia of grievances.

That way, you start the New Year with industrial harmony which is a pre-condition for productivity and peace at work. The second issue at the general assembly is the strategic plan. We have gone a step higher in responding to issues that have caused us to lose staff. This is to inspire and motivate staff and increase the degree of care and support and address their deepest concerns that include housing and transport to work. We will upgrade the National Training Centre to offer research and development facilities.

We will also go into diverse new technologies such as plasma physics, plasma gasification, plutonic geothermal energy, advanced wind turbine generators, and many other such new technologies that have been developed over the past 15 years and are fully commercialised. On transport, we require 2 600 vehicles. We want to restore the 24-hour fault restore service, so this requires transport. Most of the vehicles should be electric vehicles, we must take the lead because we have 90 centres where we can roll out electric charging points. So we will be putting charging points at all our terminals.

Another concern has been that Zesa spent US$17 million in the last five years in legal fees for hired law firms fighting its own staff in the courts.

There are a lot of law firms that have made money at Zesa to fight its workers. I am going to have an independent panel to decide if we need to get rid of our own people.

KB: How does this then relate with the fact that Zesa is already planning to lay off workers under the re-bundling exercise to return the parastatal to one unit?

SG: My first inclination is that I don’t believe in throwing out people. I believe in creating opportunities for their redeployment. There are many things that Zesa is buying that it could make. For example, instead of buying solar panels, we can assemble them at our workshops.  If we can make a transformers, we can make anything. I would like to re-deploy a lot of these people into two categories, that is manufacturing equipment for the power system through partnerships and licensing.
The second is installation of energy- related technologies in rural areas. We can be able to have a nationwide micro irrigation programme.

We can go there and install primary infrastructure for water abstraction, underground and river, as well as drip irrigation, all powered by solar panels. We can be able to manufacture the entire chain and that is a business.

We want to restore public lighting in Harare and in so doing, manufacture public lighting systems.

KB: A recent press report accused you of recycling redundant employees and redeploying them at Zesa, what is your response to this?

SG: As a stop-gap measure on human resources, we want to create a pool of experienced professionals who are ex-Zesa and are local or in the Diaspora so that we can never depend on external expatriates. They will be assigned on short-term contracts to plug the holes in the management structure.
These are not coming to replace anybody because it is a structure where these skills can be accessed and used as and when necessary. The UK had a similar structure and at Eskom, they actually have a group nicknamed “Grey Beards”, who are retired experts that are being brought back as advisers to Eskom. I also have my “Grey Beards” who I believe can help me. It’s not about the age, but the expertise.

KB: What is the update on implementation of the ZESA forensic audit, which fingered some top management who are still currently at the company, in illicit deals?

SG: It’s a massive audit. I have created a board committee to look at it. I am supposed to implement its recommendations and I know some of the current managers and old board members are involved. It has unearthed massive irregularities.

KB: There have been allegations of arrogance against Zesa employees in terms of responding to faults and breakdowns. How are you going to address it?

SG: We are going to design a computerised system in terms of attitude evaluation towards customers. This platform will ensure that every genuine grievance raised by a worker will be published. We are also going to attack vandalism, which is one mess.

KB: Finally, your strategy to address load-shedding? 

SG: Electricity supply is set to improve. We are waiting for the money that we raised from Afreximbank and will use it to clear arrears with Eskom, EDM of Mozambique and Cahora Bassa, also from Mozambique.

What that means is we will then be in a position to import more power. The two units at Hwange are being refurbished as we speak and will add about 300MW of new power to the national grid this year. We expect the water situation at Kariba to also improve. So I can say there will be an improvement by end of February. Even more so at the end of March. Sunday Mail


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