MAPUTO, Hidroelectrica de Cahora Bassa (HCB), the Mozambican company operating the Cahora Bassa Dam hydro-electric project in the western Mozambican province of Tete, has denied media reports in Zimbabwe that it is about to cut off power supply to Zimbabwe because of unpaid debts.

The Harare daily, the Herald, on Tuesday quoted Josh Chifamba, the Chief Executive of the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA), as saying that because of foreign currency shortages, ZESA has been unable to pay debts owed to HCB and to South African power utility Eskom.

The Herald report claimed that HCB and Eskom had both given ZESA an ultimatum — pay up by May 31, or the power to Zimbabwe will be switched off.

However, a senior source in the HCB management, contacted by AIM here Thursday, categorically denied that there was any such ultimatum. He said that while he could not speak for Eskom, HCB had continued to negotiate with ZESA and there was no question of turning the power off at the end of May.

The Herald claimed that the debt to HCB was 40 million US dollars, but the HCB source said the true figure is around a quarter of that, about 10 million USD. This, he said, was a historic debt, and the last time ZESA had paid anything on it was ten months ago.

However, the debt is not getting any larger, he added, because nowadays ZESA is regularly paying the monthly invoices from HCB. The source added that the debt had been discussed at a meeting in Harare earlier this week, and it was agreed that ZESA would pay off the arrears by August.

Currently HCB supplies 50 megawatts (MW) to ZESA, but the line from Cahora Bassa to Zimbabwe could carry much more, if ZESA was willing and able to pay for it.

ZESA’s problems with Eskom seem much more serious, since Eskom supplies Zimbabwe with 300 megawatts.

The Herald put Zimbabwe’s electricity requirements at 1,400 megawatts, but the ageing equipment in Zimbabwe’s own power stations can only produce 980 megawatts. The supplies from Eskom and HCB are thus crucial to avoid large scale blackouts.