Chiawelo, Soweto, electricity struggles, South Africa

<div class="horipane"><div class="title active">Description</div><div class="content"><table class="table"><tbody><tr><td class="fld"></td><td class="columns">The Chiawelo comminity is fighting against the installation of pre-payment electricity meters which forces them to pay upfront for electricity. The underlying problem is the increasingly high cost of electricity for non-business electricity users in South Africa. ESKOM,the state-owned electricity company routinely cuts off the power supply to consumers who fall behind several months with their payments. But social movements organising in Soweto, a mainly working class township/suburb, such as the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, often re-connect residents who get cut off as part of their struggle for universal access to clean energy. The conflict in Chiawelo arose because the new pre-payment meters are tamper- proof, that is, they are built like money safes and cannot be interfered with by residents and social movement technicians seeking to re-connect the people. In 2010 the community of Chiawelo got very agitated about these meters given a 20% increase in the price of electricity that saw many unable to pay and thus without electricity. They marched in the streets causing chaos and burnt down two houses belonging to local councillors, that is, elected local government representatives. The aftermath saw 26 residents arrested and facing charges of arson, public violence and malicious damage to property. The arrested spent 4 months in jail because the state refused them bail. The court case is on-going. <br/><br/></td></tr></tbody></table></div></div><div class="horipane"><div class="title active">Basic Data</div><div class="content"><table class="table"><tbody><tr><td class="fld">Name</td><td>Chiawelo, Soweto, electricity struggles, South Africa</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Country</td><td><a href="/country/south-africa">South Africa</a></td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Province</td><td>Gauteng</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Site</td><td>Chiawelo, Soweto, Johannesburg</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Accuracy of Location</td><td>HIGH local level</td></tr></tbody></table></div></div><div class="horipane"><div class="title active">Source of Conflict</div><div class="content"><table class="table"><tbody><tr><td class="fld">Type of Conflict (1st level)</td><td>Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Type of Conflict (2nd level)</td><td>Urban development conflicts<br /> Other</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Specific Commodities</td><td><a href='/commodity/electricity'>Electricity</a><br /></td></tr></tbody></table></div></div><div class="horipane"><div class="title active">Project Details and Actors</div><div class="content"><table class="table"><tbody><tr><td class="fld">Project Details</td><td class="columns">The average family uses 400 kwh of electricity per month. Soweto is estimated to have 1,5 million residents or about 250 000 households</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Project Area (in hectares)</td><td>5</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Type of Population</td><td>Urban</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Potential Affected Population</td><td>1,5 million Sowetans</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Company Names or State Enterprises</td><td><a href='/company/eskom'>ESKOM</a> from <a href='/country-of-company/south-africa'><small>South Africa</small></a></td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Relevant government actors</td><td>Department of State Enteprises, Department of Minerals and Energy</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">International and Financial Institutions</td><td><a href='/institution/world-bank'>The World Bank <small>(WB)</small></a></td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Environmental justice organisations and other supporters</td><td>Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, Soweto Concerned Residents, Earthlife South Africa, Democratic Left Front, Socialist Party of Azania, Pan Africanist Congress</td></tr></tbody></table></div></div><div class="horipane"><div class="title active">The Conflict and the Mobilization</div><div class="content"><table class="table"><tbody><tr><td class="fld">Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)</td><td>HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">When did the mobilization begin</td><td>In REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Groups Mobilizing</td><td>Neighbours/citizens/communities<br /> Social movements</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Forms of Mobilization</td><td>Media based activism/alternative media<br /> Public campaigns<br /> Street protest/marches<br /> Property damage/arson<br /> Opening of the the pre-payment electricity meters using grinders in order to re-connect those who were cut off. </td></tr></tbody></table></div></div><div class="horipane"><div class="title active">Impacts</div><div class="content"><table class="table"><tbody><tr><td class="fld">Environmental Impacts</td><td><strong>Visible: </strong>Air pollution<br /><strong>Potential: </strong>Fires, Global warming</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Other</td><td>The walls of some peoples houses get covered with soot due to the use of paraffin primus stoves, candles spills dirty the house, paraffin smell inside the house and on peoples clothing. This happens due to the use of unclean and unsafe fuels since many people cannot afford to buy electricity. </td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Health Impacts</td><td><strong>Visible: </strong>Accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide<br /><strong>Potential: </strong>Malnutrition, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..) , Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Other</td><td>School children studying using paraffin lamps, candles and other inadequate light sources have their eyes negatively affected. </td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Socio-economic Impacts</td><td><strong>Visible: </strong>Loss of livelihood, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights<br /><strong>Potential: </strong>Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Other</td><td>Too much money spent on buying electricity constrains the budgets of poor families. Many families rely on government social grants, such as penisions and child grants, for survival given the high unemployment rate in Soweto.</td></tr></tbody></table></div></div><div class="horipane"><div class="title active">Outcome</div><div class="content"><table class="table"><tbody><tr><td class="fld">Project Status</td><td>In operation</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Pathways for conflict outcome / response</td><td>Criminalization of activists<br /> Repression<br /> The government promotes a policy of providing free electricity to poor households, but this amounts to 50 kwh per household per month. This is not enough to cover basic energy needs of working class families.</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Development of Alternatives</td><td>They demand enough free electricity for all to cover basic needs i.e. about 400 kwh per household per month. The electricity company must stop installing the pre-payment meters. The government must subsidise the installation of solar energy panels in order to make electricity affordable and to prevent carbon emissions that lead to climate change. All charges to be dropped against the 26 Chiawelo residents who were arrested and who face stiff sentences if found guilty by the court.</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Do you consider this as a success?</td><td>Yes</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Why? Explain briefly.</td><td>The residents of Soweto have a right to clean energy. Without access to this they end up using unclean fuels such as burning wood, coal and using paraffin. Their struggle highlighted this right and slowed down the implementation of the pre-payment meters throughout Soweto as a result of other communities taking up the resistance and the authorities moving more cautiously.</td></tr></tbody></table></div></div><div class="horipane"><div class="title active">Sources and Materials</div><div class="content"><table class="table"><tbody><tr><td class="fld">Legislations</td><td><table><tr><td><p> The government is considering criminalising the stealing of electricity because at the moment there is no piece of law that allows government to arrest and charge residents who re-connect themselves to the power supply when cut off for credit purposes.<br/></p></td></tr></table></td></tr><tr><td class="fld">References</td><td><table><tr><td><p> Karl von Holdt et al. The Smoke that Calls: Insurgent Citizenship, Collective Violence and the Struggle for a Place in the New South Africa, Johannesburg: Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation and Society of Work and Development Institute, 2<br/><a class="refanch small" href="" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr><tr><td><p> Maj Fiil-Flynn, The Electricity Crisis in Soweto, Municipal Services Project paper, 2001.<br/></p></td></tr><tr><td><p> Patrick Bond, Unsustainable South AfricaEnvironment, Development and Social Protest, Pietermaritzburg: University of Kwa-Zulu Natal Press and London: The Merlin Press, 2002.<br/></p></td></tr><tr><td><p> SA Local Government Research Centre (SALGRC), SA local government briefing (Supplementary), 2011.<br/></p></td></tr><tr><td><p> Trevor Ngwane, We, the protesters, Amandla, No. 14 (May/June 2010)<br/></p></td></tr><tr><td><p> South African Broadcasting Corporation, News Research database, 2011.<br/></p></td></tr></table></td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Links</td><td><table><tr><td><p> <a class="refanch small" href="" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr><tr><td><p> <a class="refanch small" href="" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr><tr><td><p> <a class="refanch small" href="" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr><tr><td><p> <a class="refanch small" href="" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr><tr><td><p> <a class="refanch small" href="" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr></table></td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Media Links</td><td><table><tr><td><p> http:<br/><a class="refanch small" href="" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr><tr><td><p> <a class="refanch small" href="" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr></table></td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Other Comments</td><td>This is an on-going struggle as the court case continues and electricity prices increase annually in South Africa. The government has recently secured a huge loan from the World Bank to build coal-powered fire stations and these will not only add to carbon emissions but will lead to further price increases. The struggle of the Chiawelo people is at the cutting edge of the struggle for clean, safe affordable energy that does not contribute to climate change.</td></tr></tbody></table></div></div><div class="horipane"><div class="title active">Meta Information</div><div class="content"><table class="table"><tbody><tr><td class="fld">Contributor</td><td>Trevor Ngwane</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Last update</td><td>08/04/2014</td></tr></tbody></table></div></div>