By Inolofatseng Lekaba
It would be amiss if I did not start this piece with a positionality disclaimer; my opinion on township and community perspectives is exactly that, my own. Because of my multiple identities, and associated privileges and struggles, I cannot claim to speak on behalf of entire communities with equally complex lived experiences.
The communities where I live and work are on polar ends of the class continuum.
I live in Bram Fischerville in western Soweto. Developed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the township was the democratic government’s attempt at resolving the systematic exclusion of black people from the city, resulting in housing shortages in Soweto and other peri-urban, racialised areas.
Armed with policy directives of the Redistribution and Development Programme, the National Department of Housing developed small housing units with below-par infrastructure to house the bulging population of black people in Johannesburg.
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My family, who have lived in the City of Gold for four generations now, benefited from the Programme. Several of my paternal aunts, uncles, and grandaunts received subsidised houses in mFischa(er).
It is through the sad passing of my grandmother that I inherited her RDP house in 2021.
In 1994 when I was born in a mkhukhu (shack) in Soweto, I imagine that my young parents envisioned my ‘freedom’ to look just like this; a government-funded university-educated daughter living in a government-subsidised house, spending four hours a day in public transportation to access economic opportunities. Am I living the ‘born-free’ dream? Perhaps.
I commute approximately 25km to and from Doornfontein, Johannesburg for work. Here, my colleagues whom I identify as the ‘black middle-class’ share their frustrations with rolling blackouts and the negative impact on their productivity.
Of course, the University that buys my part-time labour has diesel-generated backup power supplies that ensure that the lifts work during load-shedding, that WIFI remains available on campus, and that normal power functioning is maintained in the libraries and most university buildings.
On the days that I work from home, I enjoy backup power from the self-built solar electricity system at home, and I am good to go. I had to save money for two months back in 2021 to afford to buy the solar electric circuit for this, a privilege many of my neighbours do not enjoy.
In my daily walks to catch a taxi, buy a convenience from the spaza or tend to vegetables at the community garden, I note the types of homes that have solar panels on their roofs. It is usually the ones that have Tuscan-inspired designs, newer built and bigger houses with possible multiple households. Much like in my home, the families who live in these houses have one or more employed people with disposable income for such luxuries as backup electricity.
Most of my neighbours must contend with battery-powered light sources, gas and paraffin fuelled stoves and device charging schedules that align with load-shedding times.
These measures have been collectively accepted as ‘just what we have to do’. However, the latter strategy is not fail-proof because, in Bram Fischerville and other Soweto townships, we experience load-shedding and load reduction.
At a whim, it seems, Eskom extends electricity blackouts in some parts of the township to stabilise the electricity grid.
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Sowetans are not known to tolerate extreme levels of service inadequacies. So naturally, we organise protests characterised by blocking major roads with burning tyres which have been reported on in recent weeks.
What is under-reported though is the micro-inequalities that fuel my communities’ anguish at rolling blackouts, the inequalities among households and individuals in Bram Fischerville where since my tiny home is solar-powered, I could be annoyed at protesters for causing delays in taxi and bus operations.
My participation in load-shedding and reduction protests is optional because I have access to ‘middle-class’ alternatives, access that is enabled by my multiple identities and associated privileges.
* Inolofatseng Lekaba is a genderfluid Sowetan who works with civil society organisations in their attempts to protect working-class interests in inner and peripheral Johannesburg. They hold an MA in Urban Studies, specialising in participatory development, African feminism, and township development (broadly).