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Subalternating Currents: Electrification and Power Politics in Bulawayo, Colonial Zimbabwe, 1894-1939

Moses Chikowero
Journal of Southern African Studies
Vol. 33, No. 2 (Jun., 2007), pp. 287-306
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25065197
Page Count: 20
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Subalternating Currents: Electrification and Power Politics in Bulawayo, Colonial Zimbabwe, 1894-1939
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Abstract

Compared to other themes, there is very little written about Africa's electrification history. This neglect has led one scholar to claim that, outside South Africa, electricity only emerged in sub-Saharan Africa towards the end of the first half of the twentieth century. Nothing is further from the truth. This article demonstrates that public electricity supplies became available in Bulawayo, colonial Zimbabwe's second largest city, as early as 1897 and subsequently developed to become the major source of power and lighting for industries and homes by the 1930s. The article has two major thrusts; first, it traces how the Bulawayo Town Council nurtured home electrical mechanisation by subsidising both electricity consumption and the purchase of electrical home appliances. Second, it demonstrates that this electrical modernisation was a parochial project that benefited white settler residents of the town almost to the total exclusion of Africans. It concludes that, while electricity was a luxury enjoyed by those who were privileged to use it, the town council also hornessed it to control and police the underprivileged in a way that accentuated racial segregation in the town.

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