Like everyone else in the country we have to plan around the times when we have power. And, also like everyone else in the country, we anticipate some pretty erratic load shedding times. A message from head office might say that the power will be off from twelve noon till two in the afternoon. It will go off at twelve as expected, but not return as announced two hours later. Sometimes an extra fifteen minutes passes without power, sometimes an extra half hour, even an extra two hours. By that time water is leaking out of freezers, some kitchens have run out of water and Auntie Marie is late with Oom Gert’s lunch. And he gets terribly irritable when his lunch is late.

To deal with this problem the community appointed a spokesperson, more a negotiator actually, to try to get the power back as scheduled. The first time the power gods overshot the advertised time by an hour, he called head office to ask them to give attention. After being passed from office to office he was handed to an officious-sounding person who told him, “No, not us. We are head office. You have to speak to the region. This is a regional matter.”

At the region no one seemed too sure who dealt with the switching times of power outages. Our man eventually spoke to a lady who told him she was just a relief, helping out for a few weeks. “But I’m pretty sure this is something they do locally. Why don’t you speak to the local people.”

But the local people didn’t know either until one of the cleaning ladies answered a persistently ringing phone. “What did Sonwabile say?” she asked.

“Who the hell is Sonwabile?” our community spokesperson wanted to know.

“He’s the one who works the power switch,” she said.

“Do you know him?”

“I should hope so. He’s my nephew.”

Sonwabile’s aunt had a phone number for him, but calling it got no reaction. She also had the address of his girlfriend. While the power stayed off, the community spokesperson found his way to the girlfriend’s home, but she was at work. He again called the aunt and she did have other possibilities which she shared with our spokesperson.

The place to which he successfully tracked Sonwabile was to the shebeen where he was asleep after a too generous portion of brandy. All the addresses and contact points from Sonwabile’s aunt have proven useful and the spokesperson has quickly gotten to know where to find him at any time of day. Nights he is usually with his girlfriend, Saturday afternoons he can be found cheering on his soccer team, most any time he may be in the shebeen supporting that unlicensed liquor outlet or at the local chesa nyama, a take-away restaurant that specialises meat. It has seats outside where he likes to sit with his chums and pass the time of an afternoon. He never seems to mind having these activities and entertainments interrupted though. He uncomplaining leaves whatever is occupying him to throw the switch in the sub-station and get the lights back on. A good fellow is our Sonwabile and altogether reliable, if you can track him down. He keeps the lights burning on the Springbok Vlakte, a little spasmodically perhaps, but a better than no lights at all.

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Sonwabile and the Power Switch