Zimbabwe, Zambia Suffer Nationwide Power Outages as Anger Grows in South Africa

Nationwide power outages shut down basic services across Zambia and Zimbabwe as anger mounted in South Africa over power cuts that have wreaked havoc in the continent's economic hub.

There was no immediate explanation for Saturday night's blackout, which hit Zambia and neighboring Zimbabwe almost simultaneously in the early evening, and it was unclear whether there was any connection.

Power was restored in Zambia about eight hours later, but long-suffering Zimbabweans remained without electricity, water, telephones and traffic signals for much of Sunday.

Power and water outages occur daily in Zimbabwe's crumbling economy but not on a national scale. Zimbabwe state radio, running on generators, reported the outage was caused by a major breakdown but did not elaborate. The state power utility gave no explanation as power returned in some areas Sunday afternoon.

In one apartment district in central Harare, cheering erupted when the electricity came back on, replaced by jeering and catcalling when it went off again a few minutes later.

Zimbabwe imports about 40 percent of its power from regional neighbors and is in arrears in hard currency for most of the imports. It is suffering chronic shortages of hard currency, local money, food, gasoline and most basic goods.

One of its main suppliers, South Africa, is having its own acute problems with large parts of the country suffering blackouts often lasting several hours.

State utility company Eskom said Sunday it had stopped supplying electricity to Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia because of the dire shortage at home. Normally about 95 percent is used locally and the rest is sold abroad.

"When we don't have enough capacity for domestic use we don't sell electricity. There is no surplus so there are no exports," Eskom spokesman told the South African Press Association.

The outage shut down automated teller machines and cash registers at stores and pharmacies, forcing some to close their doors.

Outraged commuters set fire to six trains near Pretoria on Friday evening after being delayed for two hours due to power outages.

Power and water outages have worsened in Zimbabwe dramatically in recent weeks. The Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority said earlier this month it had no hard currency for imported spare parts to repair equipment dating back up to 40 years.

Veteran Zimbabwean journalist Peta Thornycroft, who is now based in South Africa, expressed surprise that South Africans should be so upset about a few power cuts. She had words of advice in the Sunday Argus newspaper for suffering South Africans, such as installing solar panels on the roof connected to a large car battery; buying paraffin fridges; and switching to gas.

"Want to know how to cope in this time of gloom?" she said. "Ask a Zimbabwean."