University of Johannesburg: UJ research examines SA’s electricity crisis and the effect on the working class in townships

The Centre for Sociological Research and Practice (CSRP), which is part of the Department of Sociology at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), has released its research report titled ‘Energy Racism: The Electricity Crisis in South Africa.’

This research was conducted in the Black working-class township of Soweto and sought to explore the experiences, responses, and solutions of members of this community to the energy crisis in South Africa. Using an ethnographic, door-to-door research methodology, the CSRP research team sought answers to the following questions:

How do ordinary township folk experience the electricity crisis?
What impact does it have on their lives?
How are they coping with and responding collectively and individually to the crisis?
What solutions do they offer?
Black working-class communities are bearing the burden
The research results contained in the 83-page long report are captured in the concept ‘energy racism’. The researchers found a situation whereby Black working-class communities are bearing the burden of the electricity crisis. During the days of apartheid, the Black working class has been digging out the coal that fired Eskom’s power stations, but black townships did not have any electricity. In the new South Africa, strategies have been developed to rob the victims of apartheid of their access to a safe, clean, reliable, and affordable supply of energy. The report suggests that there are more continuities than discontinuities of oppression, exploitation, misery, and suffering.

It also demonstrates how, in addition to load shedding, Black working-class communities suffer from load reduction. The latter is a racist policy of targeting Black areas for power failures aimed at reducing South Africa’s energy demand given Eskom’s inability to cope. The report also provides evidence of how areas where the Black working-class live are neglected by Eskom and the authorities when it comes to maintenance, service complaints, response to repair callouts, etc. The report suggests that the criminal neglect of the energy needs of the working class and the poor is a continuation of past racist policies.

In a context of apparently unending increases in electricity tariffs, ceaseless load shedding and load reduction, rising unemployment, and inequality, this report highlights the perpetuation of racist, classist and gender-based exclusions in South Africa. Facing these inconvenient truths is the only basis for finding lasting solutions to the energy crisis in this country and in other parts of Africa and the world.