Democracy but no power

The following is from a comrade in South Africa, possibly printed in this weekend’s Mail and Guardian but nowhere online.

The following is from a letter I wrote to Phambili Nombane, the energy supplier to my community. I would like to share my suffering, and that of my community, which is even greater than mine. I wish to open a debate on the effectiveness of privatisation of social services and how much the community benefits or suffers from it.

I do not know how to express the frustration and bitterness I have suffered due to the inefficiency of your company, which has no respect for the community I live in. I cannot count how many times we have suffered electricity cut-offs, though your clever, selfish prepaid system ensures that I pay up-front for electricity I do not use.

This year alone, your illegal cut-offs have cost me a post-graduate diploma, and my wife an honours degree. This was due to the failure to submit essays, assignments, and projects, or failure to submit them on time, because your company illegally cut off the electricity. We spend entire nights waiting and hoping that the electricity will come on, but in vain. My wife is now excluded from finishing her degree.

We missed supper a number of times, until we realised that we cannot rely on your prepaid electricity and used paraffin for cooking after cut-offs. On many occasions we had to bath in cold water.

We have even been cut off from the world because we cannot charge the batteries for our cellular phones. This resulted in my wife missing an appointment for a job interview as she did not receive the call from the


The cold nights and the cold baths we are often forced to have resulted in increased medical bills for the family.

This is just a glimpse of one family’s suffering — how much more for the entire community?

Phambili Nombane is a progressive name drawing from the tradition of our struggle, which used the slogan “Phambili [Forward]”. But people in my community have very little to claim as victory after 10 years of democracy. Installation of electricity is wrongly perceived as one of the democratic victories.

Gatyeni, my neighbour, told me he heard that frequent cuts-off are caused by ‘illegal’ reconnections. I hope your company is not involved in spreading these fairy tales. I explained to him that the company has got a duty to deliver electricity at all costs, especially electricity we pay for before we use it.

If you consider Gatyeni’s sentiments are shared by other sufferers, these cut-offs have the potential to cause civic violence.

– Tembinkosi Qondela, Site C, Khayelitsha