Kumnyama la/It’s Dark Here, Mud Muses: A Rant About Technology, 2017; Video, Duration 3min

Kumnyama la/It’s Dark Here

Mud Muses: A Rant About Technology, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, 2019

Techno-Politics of Social Housing

This installation and video content explore the contestation over social housing and electrical access in contemporary South Africa. There is an intersection of two social and political crises- inadequate electrical distribution and a severe lack of social housing. In the democratic era (1994-), the state has pursued the apartheid strategy of building housing in peripheral, disconnected townships, while neoliberal austerity and political corruption have resulted in housing that fails to meet the needs of ordinary people. This exclusion leads to rage and disruption- communities hack illegally into the grid, or confront the state through protests, while the government criminalises so called “izinyoka” (snakes) for creating illicit connections.

The South African context reflects global issues like rising inequality, authoritarian politics, urban transformation, economic stagnation, corruption and failing infrastructure.

The state has an ideal of vision of peri-urban space, with a docile citizenry who accept limited services and don’t illegally connect. This is undergrid by a discourse around morality and public safety and pacifying ‘problem’ areas. South Africa’s compromised political transition to democracy under neoliberal rules draws its statecraft from a globalised colonial present, with tactics and technologies of military urbanism used to both persuade and coerce restive populations.

But our research shows that the Izinyoka are community members, embedded within networks of mutual aid, installing electrical connections in response to government failures. The Izinyoka can be thought of as a network of not just infrastructure but of social relations. It is government corruption and anti-poor pricing which has created an energy crisis in South Africa and fuels so-called ‘service delivery’ protests. The popular perception that government is not working for the people has led to the flourishing of a sophisticated, grassroots shadow infrastructure.

Political Imagination
Behind the infrastructure crisis in South Africa is a failure of political imagination. There is a failure to imagine social housing beyond the dismal bounds set by apartheid, and to imagine an effective and ecologically sustainable electrical grid. This work will wrestle with how technology and design can be used as part of a political and social program to confront both inequality and climate change. These themes translate into the visual language of the installation, which references the aesthetics of social housing, is in an incomplete form, with the surrounding mud and trees highlighting how South Africa’s democratic transition is unresolved. The video shown within the structure brings attention to the techno-political content interpreted and discussed through the work.