The Rural Electrification Fund (REF) is a statutory body governed by the Rural Electrification Fund Act (Chapter 13:20). Its background is that Post-independence Zimbabwean Government gave high priority to rural infrastructure development programmes, which included the rural electrification programme. The policy framework was a deliberate intention to correct the imbalances between urban and rural electrification with the ultimate goal of socially and financially empowering the rural communities and enhancing their capabilities in their contribution towards economic development of the country.
The Rural Electrification Programme (REP) commenced in earnest in 1983 when the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) earmarked forty-eight (48) growth points for electrification. The pace of project implementation was slow and characterized by under funding and inequitable project distribution. In essence, the resultant poor return on infrastructure investment emanating from the high electrification costs and low load regimes associated with the rural communities, discouraged ZESA management, by then from fully fledged implementation of the policy framework. However, in February 1989 the idea of a countrywide rural electrification programme was mooted. This idea culminated in the 1995 African Development Bank funded Rural Electrification Master Plan Study that recommended:
- The extension of the grid network to 415 rural service centres, business centres and growth points that would act as grid network hubs.
- Dedicated funding arrangement through an electrification levy; and
- Promotion of productive use of electricity by the projects selected for rural electrification
In 1997 ZESA’s Consumer Services Department established the Rural Electrification Unit to dedicate its efforts towards the rural electrification activities. In March 2001, the ZESA Board passed a resolution to embark on the Expanded Rural Electrification Programme (EREP) with Electricity End-Use Infrastructure Development (EEUID). The resolution gave an unprecedented impetus to finalizing the electricity industry reform draft white paper, which culminated in the enactment of the Rural Electrification Fund Act and the Electricity Act respectively at the beginning of 2002.The legal framework created an enabling environment that promoted and sustained the Rural Electrification Programme in that the Rural Electrification Agency builds the grid network infrastructure and the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) collects the levy, operates and maintains the developed infrastructure.