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Electricity pylons carrying power for businesses and households.

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe will ramp up its electricity imports over the next few weeks, potentially easing rolling power cuts, after it agreed to make payments to clear its debt to a regional power utility, a treasury official said on Monday.

The southern African nation has endured 18-hour daily power cuts since May as a result of a prolonged drought that has reduced output at its largest hydro plant and ageing coal-fired generators that keep breaking down.

Foreign power companies also stopped supplying Zimbabwe with electricity in 2017 after the country failed to pay its bills, although Zimbabwe resumed limited imports of 300 MW a month last week.

George Guvamatanga, secretary for the ministry of finance, told business leaders in Harare that Zimbabwe had agreed to make weekly payments to clear its debt to a regional power utility, which would start providing at least 400 MW of electricity a month, starting from this week.

That would take total imports to 700 MW a month.

Guvamatanga did not name the supplier. Zimbabwe typically buys electricity from South Africa’s Eskom and Hydro Cahora Bassa of Mozambique.

Zimbabwe owes more than $70 million to Eskom and Hydro Cahora Bassa of Mozambique for past power supplies.

“I think the arrangement that we have put in place now on electricity should hopefully guarantee us increased supply from tomorrow or Wednesday,” Guvamatanga said.

“Working with the mining sector we have been able to ring-fence adequate resources to pay for at least 400 megawatts of electricity a month.”

Power shortages, along with drought and a severe dollar crunch, will result in the economy shrinking this year, the finance minister said last week.

Energy and Power Development Minister Fortune Chasi was in South Africa at the end of July to try negotiate for a power deal with Eskom. He did not immediately respond to calls and messages on his mobile phone on Monday.

Eskom, which is itself struggling to meet South Africa’s electricity needs, had no immediate comment.

The government said last week that power utility ZESA Holdings was accessing 300 MW during off-peak hours from the Southern African Power Pool, a regional industry collaboration linking up national grids.

Guvamatanga said for now Zimbabwe would have to rely on electricity imports, which required foreign currency that is in short supply.

Last week finance minister Mthuli Ncube announced a three-fold increase in electricity tariffs, as the government seeks to raise more funds for power generation. (Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Susan Fenton)

FILE: Zimbabwe's former President Robert Mugabe speaks during a press conference held at his "Blue Roof" residence, in Harare, on July 29, 2018.

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa says former president Robert Mugabe is in Singapore where he was hospitalized almost four months ago.

In a statement released Thursday, Mnangagwa said the former president, who resigned in November 2017 under pressure from the military, has been in Singapore since April, but that his condition is “remarkably stable.”

“I am greatly pleased to inform the Nation the former President continues to make steady progress towards eventual recovery, and that his condition is remarkably stable for his age,” read the statement without disclosing any details of the nature of Mugabe’s hospitalization.

Mnangagwa, who served as the country’s vice president until November 2017 when Mugabe fired him over allegations of disloyalty and plotting to overthrow him, wrote in the statement that he sent several high-level officials and also Mugabe’s former personal physician, to go to Singapore to check on Mugabe.

The delegation, headed by Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Dr. Misheck Sibanda included Mugabe’s former personal doctor, Professor Jonathan Matenga, and Ambassador Isaac Moyo, Director General in the president’s office.

“From the report the team gave me at the weekend, I am greatly pleased to inform the nation that the former president continues to make steady progress towards eventual recovery and that his condition … He is responding very well to all treatment.”

Mnangagwa urged the country’s church leaders to pray for the 94-year-old former leader, but assured the nation that, based on the delegation’s report, Mugabe “was in high spirits,” and would be discharged from the Singapore hospital, soon.

“Because of the good progress he is making, Cde Mugabe could be released fairly soon. Once that happens, Government stands ready with appropriate and adequate arrangements for both his return and continued care and treatment here at home respectively, until he recovers fully.”

Mnangagwa took over from Mugabe in November 2017, and was inaugurated as president of Zimbabwe after a disputed election by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance, in August 2018.

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