No power, no business

As lengthy and frequent blackouts dim the nation, sex workers have not been spared the effects of the power crisis.

I met one night queen at Chikwawa Boma last week. She said ussually she makes about K10 000 a night. But since last month, the highest she can get is K2 000 and at times this goes down to K500.

She charges each customer K2 500 for a short time service and K5 000 the whole night.

Affected by electricity outages: Sex workers

We will name her Zione. She is 19 years old, but has been working as a sex worker since last year.

According to Zione, the drop in her business has come about because of the prolonged blackouts.

At Chikwawa Boma, there are over 10 drinking joints when there is electricity. When there is no power, only two places are open—New Spot 9 Club and Amaona Beer Garden.

“They have generators, so they are always open,” said Zione. “If it weren’t for them, then we would have been out of business or we’d move to Nchalo Trading Centre.”

So it is around 9pm on Saturday, there is no electricity since Friday at Chikwawa Boma. Still, Zione has to go and work.

“Since 7pm no customer has come to me,” she said. “I was at Amaona, but I have to move to Spot 9 maybe the business is good there.”

At 11.30pm, she was coming back from Spot 9—a place 200 metres away from Amaona. “I found about ten people with two ladies. There is no business,” she said, “Escom itiganizire abale.

Many of the people at night are bicycle taxi operators, known as kabaza, who provides transport for sex workers to move from one place to another.

“I will still be at Amaona till morning because there are a lot of people,” said a frustrated Zione.

By morning, she just realised K500. “I have a baby at home. She is waiting for me to provide support. Parents too look up to me for support. This K500 is nothing to me.”

These uncertainties and desperate crowds mirror the gravity of the worsening power shortage as Electricity Generation Company of Malawi (Egenco) only generates just about half the power it needs to keep those connected to the-grid supplied.

Some areas like Chikwawa go over 24 hours without electricity.

Another sex worker, who has been in the business for over five years said, she is thinking of moving to Nchalo or Blantyre.

“When there is electricity, we have a lot of customers because over ten drinking joints open,” she said. “It is a challenge now to get even K1 000.”

As the country faces more dark nights, Egenco warns that the prolonged blackouts will continue until March next year when diesel-powered generators, envisaged to generate 46 megawatts (MW), are expected to be operational.

This is contrary to what President Peter Mutharika promised the nation. He made an ambitious promise to end the power problems by next month.

The generators, likely to drive up electricity tariffs, represents a costly stop-gap and shift. The country relies on hydropower.

Egenco generates 99 percent of its power output on the Shire River whose levels have dropped.

This week, the power distributor Escom, which keeps a tenth of the population supplied, announced that the output has slumped to 147MW against a national demand of about 300MW. n

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