CLAIMS to Energy Citizenship in South Africa


Start date: 1 April, 2024 End date: 31 March, 2028 Project type: Research projects in countries with targeted development cooperation (earlier Window 2) Project code: 24-M05-KU Countries: South Africa Thematic areas: Energy, State building, governance and civil society, Urban development, Lead institution: University of Copenhagen (UCPH), Denmark Partner institutions: African Centre for Cities (ACC), South Africa City of Cape Town, South Africa Project coordinator: Karen Waltorp Total grant: 10,024,888 DKK

Project summary

Energy access and affordability are major challenges across Africa. The research project ‘CLAIMS to Energy Citizenship in South Africa’ aims to confront this challenge, focusing on Cape Town. In a rapid transition away from coal and toward renewable energy, CLAIMS unpacks how energy – in particular electricity – is a key site of negotiating contemporary citizenship.

Climate change intersects with other development threats such as poverty and political exclusion. To avoid exacerbating existing inequalities in the transition to green energy, it is key to consider energy citizenship – and include restorative justice and belonging in it. There is a need for deeper socio-cultural understandings, likely to impact on the futures that forecasting modelling and scenario building seeks to predict, and for more qualitative research into the experiential dimensions of energy use in urban South Africa. The objective of CLAIMS is to understand, substantiate and contextualise ‘energy citizenship’. Concretely, we shed light on the interface between government and city policies and provision practices, and the ongoing claims, concerns, and actions of marginalised citizens and electricity users on the Cape Flats, a township area on the outskirts of Cape Town.

Partnering with local stakeholders, we contribute evidence-based and people-centred perspectives on green energy transitions and provision, amidst an unprecedented energy crisis with spiralling electricity prices and extensive scheduled black-outs, and against a longer history of deep urban injustices. An interdisciplinary team of South African and Danish anthropologists, geographers, urban planners and historians, we provide solid, empirically based, knowledge on how energy and electricity is experienced and claimed by citizens on the margins and handled by the city. We trace the concrete technologies of 'the electricity socket' and 'the solar panel' and the infrastructures, politics, practices, and future possibilities they engender. Through ethnographic fieldwork, archival work, interviews, co-creative mapping, collaborative filmmaking, and design workshops, we provide insights into experiences of the planning of - and participation in - energy systems, sensitive to the innovative solutions of marginalised citizens and the municipality, and document the scenarios where provision works well, including the City’s experiments with Independent Power Production (IPPs), and citizens’ involvement in mini-grid projects

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