Hwange 7 & 8's first 300 megawatts to come on stream by October 2021

By Staff reporter | 29 Mar 2020 at 19:12hrs
SINOHYDRO, the main contractor executing the Hwange 7 and 8 power expansion, says the project is 40 percent complete.

The US$1,1 billion venture is the largest project under the landmark deals signed between Zimbabwe and China, and is expected to feed 600 megawatts into the national grid - ending the country's power shortages.

Currently, Zimbabwe requires about 1 800 megawatts of power at peak periods, but frequent breakdowns and lack of spare parts at Hwange's units one to six have reduced output to less than 500 megawatts from the thermal plant.

It is anticipated that when it is up and running, the new Hwange 7 and 8 will provide uninterrupted power supply to the nation and contribute significantly to the revival of the economy, given the importance of energy as an economic enabler.

In an interview with this publication, Sinohydro site manager at the Hwange expansion project, Mr Tang Zhaolai, said the first unit is expected to start functioning in October 2021.

"We expect the first unit of 300 megawatts to be up and running by October 1 2021, if everything goes according to plan. The second unit should by up three months later, which is by 1 January 2022."

Mr Tang said some of the superstructures for the project have been completed and so far the project had been running within its timelines. He described some of the construction taking place at the site as the largest in Zimbabwe.

"The construction that is taking place here is huge. We have here a 400-tonne crane, the largest in Zimbabwe, right now," he said.

"So far we have completed construction of a superstructure, which is a large chimney. Other works are in progress. There are going to be four sub-stations which feed power into the national grid. The four are going to be located in Hwange, Lupane, Bulawayo and Sherwood in Kwekwe. Construction of all these sub-units has started."

Significant progress has also been made on excavations for the coal-handling site, the boiler house and cooling tower.

Labour issues

The Hwange project has provided employment for many people, with 1 812 locals working at the site.

Recent media reports have suggested  that labour abuses were rife at the project but Sinohydro management and workers who spoke to The Sunday Mail at the site last week cleared the air on the alleged abuses.

Questioned about the death of a worker who slipped and fell off a scaffold in November last year., Sinohydro human resources manager Mr Webster Mazarura said: "We have a fully-fledged safety department headed by a safety director. We have had two workplace accidents. The first was the death of a worker in November. The issue has been handed over to NSSA. As a company, we have covered the full compensation due to the family.

"On 26 February, there was also another incident in which a worker lost four fingers on duty. False reports have indicated that we have abandoned him but we have provided medical assistance to him. He is still our employee and we have welcomed him back at work with his full salary and benefits whilst assigning him light duties."

A representative of the workers' union, Mr Fungai Simbine, said clashes were common as is normal at any workplace, but denied reports of abuse.

"Most of the challenges we encounter with our Chinese supervisors are due to language differences," said Mr Simbine.

"We are not abused, as has been claimed. However, we encounter difficulties just like any other normal workplace. We do have the human resources manager constantly addressing such issues. We have a platform to raise grievances through the works council."

Commenting on allegations of abuse of workers, Sinohydro chief representative in Zimbabwe Mr Wu Yifeng said the company adhered to the country's labour laws.

"It is hard to design a mechanism to satisfy all the people, especially in the face of current economic challenges in Zimbabwe. Assisted by the National Employment Council (NEC) and relevant Government authorities, we have completed a labour management system according to Zimbabwean labour laws.

"We understand the grievances raised by our workers. Inflation has not only affected people's lives but also the project itself. But we have constantly increased salary levels against the depreciation of the RTGS under the guidance of the NEC."

Covid-19 impact

Currently, more than 200 Chinese engineers who work on the site are in China and have not been able to return due to the global pandemic, after having visited their home country for the Lunar New Year.

Some equipment, which was due to be delivered this month for the project, is also stuck in China or at sea.

Mr Wu said the coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on the project, saying timelines could be affected. "Covid-19 has caused a significant negative impact on the project including but not limited to, equipment manufacturing in China and its logistics, as well Chinese manpower mobilisation to Zimbabwe for some special works. There has also been some impact on local procurement, restrictions on travel, extra costs for Covid-19 protection and other matters.

"We are still to assess how much  it will affect the finalisation timelines for the project."

Mr Tang said the company had advised the 200 plus workers who are in China against returning to the site until the situation improves.  "We are doing this for the safety of our workers so that the locals are not affected," he said.



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