Thursday, July 30, 2009

electricity, please

Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Durban-based squatter organizing group, once again makes the sane and humane argument that the eThekwini Municipality must overturn its ban on legal electrical connections in squatter communities.

The group notes that candles and kerosene lanterns can overturn and cause fires while improper wiring can short out, as happened on Monday when a teenager was apparently electrocuted in the community called Siyanda.
If the state continues to fail to recognise our humanity, and it remains up to us to recognise and defend our own humanity, then each community and each movement must take the responsibility to ensure that electricity is appropriated in a safe and well organised manner. Until this service is provided to everyone we have no choice but to continue to support Operation Khanyisa so that people can keep themselves safe from fires and benefit and advance their lives.
[for more on Operation Khanyisa's work see this article from the Multinational Monitor]

eThekwini officials, AbM says, rush to tell the newspapers how much money is being lost because of pirated, community-organised connections. "If they are so worried about this why don’t they put us on the electricity grid? By denying the people formal access to electricity they force the people to take electricity. They leave people with no choice."


Sara San Angelo said...

Hello Robert, I stumbled upon your blog and did not see any contact information for you. I am an old squatter turned author and wanted to send you a copy of my book Drift ( for your review. You can email me at

Anonymous said...

I've been LOOKING for you! I FOUND you! [okay I'm excited]

I lived in Tent City Toronto and it was a vibrant self-help community with clout. It was also an embarrassment to the City and a number of social service agencies which is the underlying reason it was shut down, and housing supplements were negotiated for us.

I'm tired of the word "homeless" being equated with "helpless".

Poverty-ridden people who find solutions, no matter how unorthodox are anything BUT "helpless".

I watched that culture evolve and grow. Had we had "legal title" to create a community council I believe it would have evolved in many positive ways. Without it--we were at risk from all sides.

Philippe de Rougemont said...

In Brasil, "barefoot electricians" working for the major electricity utility have been canvassing favellas (I ca'nt recall which favelas and where I read this, it was about 2 years ago). The newly trained electricians offered a free efficient lightbulb and fridge against an official wiring into the utility network. Result: for the people, less accidents, secure access to electricity, increased energy efficiency and for the utility, a sustainable operation in the favela. Who could ask for anything more ? Solar thermal pannels to heat water (not photovoltaic because of theft risk), yes, amongst other rational things to do.
But ideology and power play seems to be getting in the way, because land owners or would be external developpers have competing aims.
PS: congrats for this "real world" blog, its great.

rn said...

Philippe: Great to hear from you again. One caveat to your quite sensible comment: I don't see why squatters should have any less access to infrastructure than anyone else. I'm in favor of bringing energy efficient bulbs and fridges and water heaters in the favelas--as long as squatters want them.

Anon: Sorry for the long delay in posting my reply. Question: did you really need 'legal title' to create a community council? Or is this something a political struggle could have won? Also, what is that land that once housed the tent city being used for now?

Philippe de Rougemont said...

There was a misunderstanding there, I did'nt mean "who would ask for anything more than a lightbulb and a fridge", I meant "who would ask for more than good and safe wiring and a legal access to electricity."

All the best from Switzerland, Philippe