FRANCIS LUNGU, Sioma
“WE bury our beloved ones the same day they die because we have no mortuary. Friends and relatives from afar have no opportunity to pay their last respects,” says 54-year-old Theresa Pelekelo of Nangweshi area in Sioma district of Western Province.
This situation is, however, going to change soon as the Rural Electrification Authority (REA), through the K3.6 million Nangweshi 2018 Grid Extension Project, is almost done connecting a number of public facilities and individual houses in Sioma district to electricity.
Ms Pelekelo’s cry is based on the fact that Kaanja Rural Health Centre in Nangweshi has never had electricity and therefore is unable to have morgue facilities.
She says mortuary facilities help in dignifying funerals as mourners from far and wide are accorded an opportunity to attend burial for their beloved ones.
Like many other rural parts of the country, Nangweshi has an assortment of economic activities that need to be ignited by electricity connectivity.
“We have big gardens growing different types of vegetables but we cannot preserve them, we eat the same day because we do not have fridges,” Ms Pelekelo says.
Twembuchi Nalucha, 41, has for years been selling fritters which she makes using firewood.
Ms Nalucha feels inhibited to grow her business because of lack of electricity, but the Nangweshi 2018 Grid Extension Project, expected to be completed by December this year, brings a glimmer of hope to her business.
“With electricity, I will even be able to sell soft drinks, fresh fish and be able to bake using an electricity-powered stove, unlike using firewood. We will also be able to watch television like our friends in urban areas,” she delightfully says in an interview.
The joy that electricity will bring to the people of Nangweshi is also expressed by Oscar Mumbuwa, a 35-year-old businessman.
Mr Mumbuwa has been using solar power to run a shop in Kaanja area for 20 years after he inherited the business from his father.
With the 11kiloVolt overhead line under REA’s Nangweshi 2018 Grid Extension Project, Mr Mumbuwa’s hope of expanding his business and even diversifying it has been raised.
The Nangweshi involves the construction of a total of 16.6 kilometres of 11kV and 7.74 kilometres overhead lines to supply public institutions and the surrounding areas in Sioma district.
The line will be tapped from the existing 11kV overhead line from Sioma’s 66/11kV substation.
“We are using solar but it is not effective. With [hydro] electricity that the Government has brought, this place will change. Farmers will now be able to venture into irrigation,” Mr Mumbuwa says while appealing to Government to work on the 20km road to the main Sesheke-Livingstone road.
Sioma District Commissioner Maurice Litula says once Nangweshi, which lies on the beautiful banks of the Zambezi River, is connected to the power grid, it would be a hub of both Government and private business activities in the district.
Mr Litula says Sioma, being a new district created in 2012 after it was demarcated from Shangombo district, is in dire need of electricity to spur both social and economic development as the area has huge untapped tourism potential.
“We have Sioma National Park, the third largest in the country. This electricity project will bring value and change the face of Nangweshi and the entire Sioma district,” Mr Litula said when the REA senior management team led by chief executive officer Geoffrey Musonda paid a courtesy call on him recently.
Keeping to its phrase of “The premier provider of electricity infrastructure in rural areas”, REA has embarked on a massive rural connectivity programme across the country, ensuring that opportunities are created for rural Zambia.
During a tour of its completed and some ongoing projects in Western and Southern provinces, the REA team was generally satisfied with the progress made on most of the projects apart from the Kalabo-Mongu main substation where some cases of vandalism were reported.
Talking about the Nangweshi 2018 Grid Extension Project, which is expected to be completed by mid-next year, Pastor Musonda said the project is being implemented by M & E Construction Limited after a contract was signed with REA on May 13, 2018.
“The project will connect public institutions like Nakabunze Primary School, Kaanja Primary School, Veterinary Training Collage and Nangweshi Rural Health Centre, Nangweshi Primary School, police post, market, and Nangweshi Technical Boarding Secondary School in Sioma district,” he said.
The availability of electricity in Sioma district will also make it possible for people to set up new businesses such as electric hammermills for processing maize-meal, poultry, entertainment centres, welding, rice polishing plants, sugar plantations, carpentry shops and internet cafes, among others, Pastor Musonda outlined.
Improving of staffing levels in public institutions is one of the benefits coming with rural electrification.
The benefits coming to Nangweshi and Sioma district in general are a replica of what is happening in other parts of the country where REA is connecting public facilities and surrounding communities.
In Western Province alone, the REA is undertaking seven projects to a combined value of K77.7 million.
The projects include construction of the Grid Extension Project in Kaoma district which has been completed, resulting into the powering of 20 institutions. The contractor for the project was Eltech Investments Limited.
In Nalolo district there is Kataba 2017 Grid Extension Project, implemented by Northlands Equipment Limited, which is expected to be done by December 3, 2018, connecting five schools, one village and benefiting about 8,000 people.
Other REA projects in Western are the Kataba 2018 Internal Wiring being undertaken by Suberth Investment Limited and Luampa substation and the 22 kilometre Grid Extension Project in chief Mwanatete’s area. The latter will culminate into the powering of eight public facilities and benefit a population of 45, 000 in the new district of Luampa.
Other projects are the Limulunga Grid Extension based on the 2018 work plan and budget, construction and commissioning of substations and grid extension projects; Mongu substation, Kalabo substation, which will power Sikongo and surrounding areas.
In Southern Province, REA is working on eight projects all valued at K52.3 million.
These include Makunka 2018 Project in Kazungula district; Jembo 2018 Grid Extension Project and Kanchomba 2015 Grid Extension Project, both in Pemba district; Manyaana 2018 Grid Extension Project and Haanjalika 2018 Power Project, both in Mazabuka district.
The others are Dimbwe Mission 2015 Grid Extension Project in Kalomo and Chikankata 2018 Grid Extension Project being undertaken through a memorandum of understanding between REA and Zesco.
Currently, around 31 percent of Zambia’s 16.1 million population has access to electricity, but Government is determined, through projects such as those undertaken by REA, to reach the targeted 51 percent by 2030.
FRANCIS LUNGU, Sioma