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Electric Power Bill Passes Zimbabwe Senate - But Blackouts To Persist

The Zimbabwean senate has approved the Electricity Amendment Bill providing for an overhaul of the disfunctional Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority and stiffening of penalties for electric power-related vandalism such as copper cable theft.

The country needs some 2,000 megawatts to function normally, but between local production and imports is only receiving between 1,000 and 1,500 megawatts.

Blackouts have gotten worse in the past two weeks, leaving many households with just four to eight hours a day of electricity to meet their lighting and other needs.

Former ZESA chief executive Simbarashe Mangwengwende told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the legislation is needed - but is unlikely to boost the availability of electric power in the near to medium term.

Meanwhile, the highly controversial Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Bill awaits the signature of President Robert Mugabe to become law with executives in the mining sector and economists warning it could cause the key sector to buckle.

Chamber of Mines Chief Executive Douglas Verden said the mining industry is very concerned with the impending law which would allow the state take a 51% stake in all companies in the name of indigenous - in effect, black - Zimbabweans.

Sector sources said companies have put investment plans on hold, and observe that as the Zimbabwean mining complex is valued at some US$20 billion, neither Harare nor indigenous private players have the capital to purchase a controlling stake. This raises the specter of the outright expropriation of private shareholdings.

Director Godfrey Kanyenze of the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute, who conducted a study of state mining firms in 2004, told VOA reporter Blessing Zulu that the law spells disaster for the wider economy.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...