While the West grapples with the growing demystification around its technology’s perceived neutrality, South Africa bears witness to a far more rudimentary form of demystification: one in which cables, pipes and wires are not only operating as a conduit for electricity, but also as a site of contention, that illustrates the running of political power.

“Kumnyama la...’’ 1 directly translated from Zulu means “it's dark here.’’ The weight of such words hit differently against the backdrop of a near lifeless peri-urban settlement. Katlehong in the south-east of Johannesburg is a post-township world. The Highveld air, scorched like the earth, is a raised cloud of irradiated mining dust that slowly fills your lungs.

There are no such residents here, and neither are there citizens.  Beyond the obviousness of a curfew you ask how this experience differs from what was once Apartheid. Perhaps it is in the lack of a militarized police presence or in the realization that you now have a vote. When the four year election cycle looms, this vote will act as legal tender to connect onto the national energy grid for a month of electricity. Electricity, in exchange for pledging fealty to the ruling African National Congress. Beyond that, the experience goes back to intermittently syphoning power —one raw connection snaking its way in and out of thirty makeshift housing structures. For scale, an individual’s daily energy consumption could amount to one kettle-full of boiling water, but the length of time this kettle takes to boil is codependent on the thirty other domiciles applying strain to this ‘grid.’

In the brazen relationship between the state, the national energy supplier —Eskom— and the people being rendered powerless, the techno-political is just one of the effective managerial prongs used to paralyze an already immobile underclass. These peripheral dormitories are locked in a state of perpetual inertia, circling the metropolis from the darkness of space where there is little noticeable difference between Monday or Sunday. There is seemingly no way out, and what is felt most is utter resignation in the eyes of those who live here, as they reconcile with the limited prospect of change within their lifetime, hoping that it might instead be possible for their children.

Beyond the techno-political paradigm is the primary issue of social and economic inclusion, for as much as this situation boils down to the contestation over access to public infrastructure, the underclass face a repressive state apparatus whose spine sits well within the old Apartheid social economy. With this considered, the techno-political would become powerless, if not for spatial segregation. Spatial segregation, implemented to promote physical order and social control, “became an instrument for the political and social exclusion of African people and their restriction to certain areas of economic life.’’ 2  One of the more frustrating sides to being ‘on-site’ is just how long it takes to get there, it is therefore unimaginable to think what it must be like to try to leave. The issue of spatial segregation coupled with an unregulated, and at best fractured public transport system, offers little hope for people needing to access Johannesburg’s central core where employment opportunities are located. “There is a saying that hunger breeds rage,’’ 3 but in times of famine, rage is wasted energy. 

The required political project which allowed for truly regenerative social policies to take flight within a post-94 South Africa needed the social investment from all, if not most, of the country's citizens. This type of social buy-in was at no stage possible, rendering the promise for a better life as one that ill-considers the individual as having a discrete set of political interests – interests that might be opposed to social reforms. It is important that politics recognize that such division is not a bug but a feature, and that concepts around social cohesion should be modeled with such municipal forces in mind. One such situation which illustrates this division of perspectives was the “Rapid Land Development Programme.” put forward by the metropolitan authority –

“(This) innovative proposal was set to house five thousand people from some of the most hazardously located communities (in Johannesburg) on four pieces of land within the existing urban area, (which was) met with fierce resistance from surrounding residents. They organized protest meetings and marches, and blockaded streets to show their disapproval of the introduction of 'crime and poverty’ into their areas. In all but one case local councils pulled back, swayed by the fact that poor people reduce property values and increase crime.’’ 4

The ANC is not solely responsible for how it mismanaged the promise made to the underclass, but to say that it has not eaten gluttonously as a way to feel something would be denial. All we have is the present. The past matters for little, and it will be wrong to count on the future as secured.

The images are created during research and development for the video in Kumnyama la/ It’s Dark Here, an installation that was part of the “Mud Muses: A Rant on Technology” exhibition at Moderna Museet. The video itself was composed of three acts. The landscapes are extrapolations of how decayed and or arid these places are, but the conditions that people live in here are not conditions that allow for the beautifying of their surroundings. There is no aspiration here, there is no need for understanding civic pride. The environment has also undergone desertification through the way Johannesburg has been mined, hence the ground becoming even more toxic.

The images of the inner-city verticality are from the final act which was about the speculation on how housing could have been used for regenerative social policies, much like the “Rapid Land Development Programme.” Hillbrow in Joburg was predominantly if not only black / POC post-94 because of white flight, so I wonder if it could have been integrated more into a proposal like the “Rapid Land Development Programme” seeing as white pushback might not have been a feature of such a proposal.  But who knows if that would have been possible, let alone amounted to anything even mildly regenerative. The fact of the matter is that the scale of this situation was so large that I find it difficult to game in my head, and wonder if it is even worth gaming in the first place. This is why I ended with the past not mattering so much. I think there's  no need to worry about the future if we cannot work together now. I think there's  so much contestation in the present that you wonder if there's  even investment at an individual level in the future. 


1    “Kumnyama la’’ - This is a direct quote from the video in the actual installation. It's from site specific interviews we conducted in July 2019, in Katlehong township.

2     Judin, Hilton; Vladislavic, Ivan. Blank___ Architecture, apartheid and after. Rotterdam: NAi Publishers. 1998. 
-- Bremmer, Lindsey. “Crime and the emerging landscape of post-apartheid Johannesburg.”

3    “There is a saying that hunger breeds rage.’’ Source: Direct quote from the video in the installation, site specific interviews CUSS Group conducted in July 2019, in Katlehong township.

4     Judin, Hilton; Vladislavic, Ivan. Blank___ Architecture, apartheid and after. Rotterdam: NAi Publishers. 1998.
-- Bremmer, Lindsey. “Crime and the emerging landscape of post-apartheid Johannesburg.”

CUSS GROUP ︎︎︎ is a multi-skilled artist collective comprising Animation, Fashion, Fine Art and Politics graduates.  CUSS GROUP’s activities have spanned the founding of a web television initiative, online publications, digital art, and curatorial projects in their HQ, Johannesburg. The collective responds to commercial, cultural and technological super-hybridity through the filter of urban trends, material artifacts, and youthculture in contemporary post-post-colonial South Africa. For a number of events,including their ongoing series of curated platforms Video Party (2013- 014), they have used non-traditional spaces like shops to insert art into the everyday and democratize its audiences. For CUSS GROUP, who are attuned to digital developments in a globalized contemporary, the exclusionary constructs that are the legacy of political and colonial histories in the post-geographical realm of bots and trolls - as well as in artworld formats and institutions. Ravi Govender from CUSS Group contributed the text to PROPS 33.