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February 21, 2008

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a fat chemist

It might be of note that abuse/misuse/mismanagement of is not restricted to "developing countries" (with regard to infrastructure). I was a young college student when the deregulation of electricity occurred in California, and dealt with the ensuing random rolling blackouts. I missed a few lectures due to unlit classrooms, but beyond being irritated fared just fine. I propose that it might be more interesting to consider these blackouts as a catalyst that perturbs the other issues that you mention (disease, unemployment, crime, race relations, etc). For example, if crime wasn't a problem, would you still be so affected if the lights went out? This of course can be connected to your observations regarding a lack of a middle class: who is the most affected by these infrastructure failures, and how does that perturb social dynamics? Chemical catalysts do not fundamentally change the reaction; however, often a catalyst can be designed/modified to attenuate reaction pathways and affect product distributions. Is it realistic to apply this thinking to the social dynamics of the area you find yourself in? Is it good enough to keep the lights on, or do you have to fundamentally change the problem? I don't know (and that's why I put it out there), but now I have to go swirl some things in a flask.

mar

Wow fc, thanks for this - I'm going to think through the idea of these power/water failures as a catalyst for the other social dynamics I mentioned.

I remember living in California during the "brownouts" too and initially I thought the situations there and here were a complete contrast, in that in Cali (and I'm simplifying the issue here extremely) the problem was they privatized with a company (Edison) that couldn't sustain the demands in terms of the infrastructure (which granted they took over from the state) whereas here, Eskom/electricity is still a state utility.

Upon a little more reading, it turns out Pres. Mbeki had considered privatizing power in 2007 (which makes me assume talks around this had been going on for several years) so he did not encourage or approve any funding to improve the old infrastructure and this January it all came to a head. A news program said SA hasn't done anything major to improve/sustain the grid in a decade.

Interestingly, the situation has hit both the high and low here. The mining industry (esp gold) came to near standstills at certain points in Jan and this month and since SA's economy robustness (esp in the global economy) is so inextricably linked to the extraction of gold, since I've been here the SA Rand currency has been slowly, but surely, sinking in value to the dollar, pound, yen, etc.

In terms of the low - some of the artisans I've met/read about who have finally been able to make their craft production pay off in terms of being able to be in the position to receive and afford basic services (although I'm still having a hard time thinking of some of these craft production activities as anything but survivalist rather than as the signs of the formation of some nascent economic labor class that so many neoliberal economists have claimed) - they are now in the position that even though conceivably they can pay for power, it is only reaching them (and their sewing machines, ovens, whatever that is linked to their production activities) intermittently.

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