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Electricity in the townships

And then there was light, but will things be so bright?

In the townships people are switching on. They are switching on lights. They are switching on kettles and stoves. They are switching on geysers and heaters. Electricity has come to the townships.

Now working men and women can wash with hot water after a hard days work. Mothers won’t spend hours making a fire before they can cook food for the family. And students won’t ruin their eyes studying by candlelight at night.

That’s the good news. But as always, good news always comes with it’s ugly sister. The ugly sister is called “bad news”.

Many community organizations believe that electricity will bring many problems with them. Community organizations bring people together to fight the problems in the townships.

The Soweto Civic Association is one of these organizations. Amos Masondo works for this organiza­tion. He also told us of the problems electricity will bring.


“Why did the government put in electricity?”, asks Mr Masondo. “We think the government wants people to believe that things are getting better in the townships. They hope that people will no longer fight the government like they did in 1976.”

“But we don’t think the people will believe the government,” he says. “Electricity will help people. But it will also bring them plenty of problems. “

The problems came even before the electricity. The electricity firms dug deep holes when they put electricity in the townships. At night people did not see the holes – the lights were not on yet. So many people fell into the holes and got hurt. In Soweto eight people died from falling into the holes. Maybe it was a sign of things to come.

“Now electricity is going to make the people even poorer,” says Mr Masondo. “The government will not pay for the electricity. They borrowed R200 million from over­seas to put electricity in Soweto. And they will make the people pay this money back.”

In most townships people must pay extra rent to the government. The government will use this money to pay back the loans. This extra rent is called an electricity levy. In Soweto people pay R 17 each month for this levy. In Katlehong they pay R6 and in Tembisa they pay R5. On top of this levy people must pay for putting wires for electricity into their houses.

Then people must also pay very high bills for electricity. In Soweto people pay more for electricity than richer people from Johannesburg pay.

“Already people are getting very high bills for rent,” says Mr Masondo. “If they don’t pay they will get kicked out of their houses. One person from Wattville got a rent bill for over R 1 500. They gave him seven days to find the money. This shows people cannot even pay their rent. Now they must find money for electricity bills.”

The Soweto Civic Association and other community organizations know that people need electricity.

But they also know the bad news about electricity. So they call meetings to talk about these problems of electricity.

At these meetings they show people how to read their meters and they talk about ways to save electricity.


Many people have another problem. They cannot read their electricity meters. Electricity meters are small machines that measure how much electricity each house uses.

People pay for every unit of electricity that they use. In Soweto each unit costs between six and eight cents. Electricity meters measure how many units of electricity your house uses. The government sends men called meter’ readers to check these meters,

Some people can’t even check their own meters – because they are locked. If your meter was put in before 1980, then it will be inside your house. Then you can read the meter. But if your meter is in a box outside, you must wait for the meter reader to come. When you see him reading the meter, tell him you want to check the meter.


At the beginning of the month write down the number on the meter, Don’t worry about the last number on the meter – it’s not important. At the end of the month· write down the new number you see on the meter, Once again forget about the last number.

Now subtract the first number from the second. (Subtract the smaller number from the bigger number). This will give the number of units of electricity that you used during the month.

To find out how much the electricity bill will be, multiply the number by seven cents. (In Soweto this is about how much electricity costs for a unit). This won’t be exactly correct. But people will know how much they must pay ­ more or less.


If you save electricity, you save money. People can do many things to save electricity.

ALWAYS switch off lights, stoves, heaters and kettles when you don’t need them.

ELECTRIC GEYSERS heat water for the bathroom and the kitchen. They use a lot of electricity. Most people leave the geyser on all day. But you don’t need to do this.

You can switch the geyser off in the day and then switch it on a few hours before you need to use the hot water.

STOVES use a lot of electricity. So try to use more than one pot on the same plate at a time. An electric kettle uses less power than a stove. So always use an electric kettle to boil water for tea or coffee.

IF A HEATER is on in a room close the doors. Then the room will heat up quickly. You can then switch off the heater.


So people can find many ways to save electricity. But the Soweto Civic Association believes that this is not enough to help with the problems of high electricity bills.

“The only way for people to make living conditions better is to unite in community organizations. Only then will they have the power to fight for the things they need,” says Mr Masondo.

If you want to know more about electricity, then go to the community organization in your area.

If you want to read more about electricity, you can get a book about electricity for only 20 cents.

You can order the book from the Community Research and I nformation Centre. Their address is:

Community Research and Information Centre 2nd Floor Freeway House 9 De Korte Street Braamfontein 2001.

Send them a postal order for 20 cents with your name and address .


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