Skip to main content

Power Failures in South Africa

Sorry for the light posting folks, I've been real busy trying to prepare for a river trip coming up next week. But I had a quick thought when thinking about the recent ginormous power failures here compared to my two years in the Peace Corps. (James Fallows has some good thoughts here, here, and here.)

So, the background: we had a huge storm here, and the power was out at my house for almost five days. When I was in South Africa, this never happened. My village, about 100 km away from the nearest sizable town, way out on the rim of the Kalahari, would lose power pretty frequently during the summer from lightning storms, but it would almost always be back on within 12-24 hours. These lightning storms, by the way, were by far the most intense I have ever experienced. Bolts so close together that there was more light than darkness, and a continuous cannonade of thunder. Wind that tore off part of my roof. But the longest period of outage that we had during those two years was a little over two days, when a strike actually fried a conductor in my village and the power company had to send someone from ~250 km away to fix it.

This discrepancy—two-day power outage in a tiny village hundreds of miles out in the countryside of a poorish country, compared to a five-day outage in the capital city of the richest country the world has ever seen—is nominally about trees, I think. DC is very heavily treed, apparently with fall-prone species, and not that dense, making the power infrastructure more vulnerable and expensive per user. When a big storm comes through, some of those trees fall over and crush the power lines; around my village there were only much smaller shrubs and thorn trees that were a lot tougher in any case.

Really, though, it's about government. As it turns out South Africa had rolling blackouts back in 2008 (before I arrived) from a lot of Thabo Mbeki-related irresponsible lack of maintenance and capacity-building. But when that turned into a giant political and international embarrassment, they fixed the problem. In a kinda cheap, half-assed, and corrupt way, but it got the job done.

This is what I'm talking about when I say that South Africa has the US licked when it comes to dynamic governance. Mzanzi is an extremely corrupt country, but at least they try to do big things, or seem to feel a sense of collective guilt when they make horrible mistakes. America seems apathetic by comparison. We strut around, pounding our chests and grunting about how we're the greatest country in the world, but when the power is out for nearly a week in our capital city, we can't manage much more than a collective shrug.

For shame. Where is our pride?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why Did Reality Winner Leak to the Intercept?

So Reality Winner, former NSA contractor, is in federal prison for leaking classified information — for five years and three months, the longest sentence of any whistleblower in history. She gave documents on how Russia had attempted to hack vendors of election machinery and software to The Intercept , which completely bungled basic security procedures (according to a recent New York Times piece from Ben Smith, the main fault lay with Matthew Cole and Richard Esposito ), leading to her capture within hours. Winner recently contracted COVID-19 in prison, and is reportedly suffering some lingering aftereffects. Glenn Greenwald has been furiously denying that he had anything at all to do with the Winner clusterfuck, and I recently got in an argument with him about it on Twitter. I read a New York story about Winner, which clearly implies that she was listening to the Intercepted podcast of March 22, 2017 , where Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill expressed skepticism about Russia actually b

The Basic Instinct of Socialism

This year I finally decided to stop beating around the bush and start calling myself a democratic socialist. I think the reason for the long hesitation is the very long record of horrifying atrocities carried out by self-described socialist countries. Of course, there is no social system that doesn't have a long, bloody rap sheet, capitalism very much included . But I've never described myself as a capitalist either, and the whole point of socialism is that it's supposed to be better than that. So of course I cannot be a tankie — Stalin and Mao were evil, terrible butchers, some of the worst people who ever lived. There are two basic lessons to be learned from the failures of Soviet and Chinese Communism, I think. One is that Marxism-Leninism is not a just or workable system. One cannot simply skip over capitalist development, and any socialist project must be democratic and preserve basic liberal freedoms. The second, perhaps more profound lesson, is that there is no s

Varanus albigularis albigularis

That is the Latin name for the white-throated monitor lizard , a large reptile native to southern Africa that can grow up to two meters long (see pictures of one at the Oakland Zoo here ). In Setswana, it's called a "gopane." I saw one of these in my village yesterday on the way back from my run. Some kids from school found it in the riverbed and tortured it to death, stabbing out its eyes, cutting off its tail, and gutting it which finally killed it. It seemed to be a female as there were a bunch of round white things I can only imagine were eggs amongst the guts. I only arrived after it was already dead, but they described what had happened with much hilarity and re-enactment. When I asked why they killed it, they said it was because it would eat their chickens and eggs, which is probably true, and because it sucks blood from people, which is completely ridiculous. It might bite a person, but not unless threatened. It seems roughly the same as killing wolves tha