Robots & Power Cuts

“Ugh, the robots [traffic lights] and street lights are out again.”
“Are they doing power cuts in the neighborhood?”
“No, someone’s probably gone and stripped and stolen the copper wires again.”


First, let’s address the fact that traffic lights are called robots here. I love it. Imagine giving directions to a foreigner here, unfamiliar with the lingo.

“Excuse me, can you tell me where the nearest gas station is?”
“Sure, just take a left at the next robot, and it will be on your right.”
(Foreigner looks for something resembling Rosie from the Jetsons.)

Anyway, non-functioning traffic lights are apparently more common than one would imagine. You often see traffic lights that are knocked over, and you think that maybe someone got into an accident and rammed into it with a car. But chances are high that someone has knocked it over to steal the copper.

Driving along, you’ll come to a busy intersection that should have traffic lights, but instead, you have to treat it as a four-way stop because the lights aren’t working.

The rumour is that South Africa hasn’t adopted fiber optics yet because they know that some fool would go dig up the cables and steal the fiber optics, thinking that it will be of value like copper. Replacing all of the dug up cables would just be too much of an expense.

Of course, there are times when the robots aren’t working because there’s been a power cut in the area to help cut down on electricity usage. They actually post real-time electricity usage warnings on TV, communicating whether the current status is green (usage is low and we’re OK), orange (a warning that the usage is creeping up too much), or red (usage is too high and we should turn off all additional lights, appliances, and the geyser). Of course, there is no warning when they’re actually going to cut the power in your area.

Just in the last month or so, we’ve had two power cuts. The first time, my mother-in-law, husband, and I, were driving home after a family get-together and noticed that all of the lights in the neighbourhood (including the street lights) were out. Instead of sitting around in the dark for the rest of the evening, we decided to go crash at my sister-in-law’s place for a couple of hours. She and her husband graciously accepted us into their warm and well-lit home, even though they had just been about to go to bed (sorry guys).

The second time, my husband and I were watching TV at night (probably around 10pm), and suddenly, we were plunged into darkness. We had to fumble around for some candles, turn off everything that had been on, and then proceeded to have one of the earliest bedtimes in our recorded history. At this point, I asked my husband “If all of the power is out, does that mean that our electric fencing is out, too?”
He said that was indeed the case. Ever the worrywart with a rampant imagination, I exclaimed that crime and robbery must go up during these power-outs since electric fencing and security systems could be easily bypassed.

“Actually, our crime rate stays exactly the same. Our criminals are pretty consistent here in South Africa.”

I had to laugh.
There’s some South African humour for you.


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