On and Off: Life and Energy Supply in a New Mining Town in Zambia

Rita Kesselring

While the West discusses the ethics of energy production, many developing countries grapple predominantly with the ethics of energy distribution. In the new and booming mining town Solwezi, North-Western Province in Zambia, it becomes particularly evident how energy as an infrastructure differentiates among its inhabitants. Most energy in the Southern African country is produced at the hydropower station at Kariba Dam, of which the mines consume about half of the produced megawatts. Pre-paying communities are constantly reminded of their secondary status by frequent “load shedding” and blackouts. They back up with the help of charcoal which leads to massive deforestation. But the inhabitants’ lives are not only shaped by energy’s absence, whimsy and scarcity; cuts of energy supply to the mine, the biggest employer in Solwezi town, have further far-reaching consequences such as retrenchment of casual and contract workers. Energy works like a torch. As it comes and goes, it also brings and takes employment, water (pressure) and services. The paper examines the effects of the nature of this elusive infrastructure in people’s everyday lives in different suburbs and milieus of Solwezi. How does energy as an infrastructure structure people’s ways of living and experiencing the urban? What kinds of ethical practices emerge from the primarily sensory and non-predicated engagement with this unevenly distributed resource?