19 March 2019

South Africa: When Energy Fails, Neighbourliness and Generators Kick in


On a desultory Joburg Sunday, neighbours join in a street party to mark the wind-up of summer, but also to ponder a future that is increasingly at risk of existing without kilowatts.

If we didn't already know it, by now we have all learnt yet again just how dependent we are on a steady stream of obedient electrons marching through a complex network of generators, turbines, high voltage lines, substations, and, finally, electrical lines to each of our individual homes.

When everything works as planned, without giving it much thought, we watch television, make dinner, clean the house, brew coffee (!), communicate with friends, family, and professional colleagues around the globe, and do all the other things that arise out of our civilisation's near-absolute dependence on this seeming magic of physics.

But sometimes the machine stops. Not quite enough for a reprise of one of those science-fiction stories or films about the day after the system-wide apocalyptic collapse. Nevertheless, there is the bleak, black humour emanating out of our collective experiences nowadays that is beginning to emulate some of the very features of that literary subgenre.

As we all know, South Africa's power grid is under extreme pressure. There has...

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