Laughing when the Lights Go Out: Humour and the Electricity Crisis in South Africa




humour, Eskom, South Africans, abusive relationship, victim mentality


As a dire consequence of complex problems, the centralised, state-owned power utility in South Africa, Eskom, has implemented so-called “loadshedding.” This is the name for a regime of scheduled power-cuts that has persisted since 2007, causing significant economic and psychological damage among South Africans. Nevertheless, despite the severity of the Eskom debacle, South Africans have produced an unending stream of social media humour in response to it. In this article, we ask what such humour might tell us about the nature of the collective South African psycho-social mindset. We collected 380 humorous items relating to the portrayal of Eskom in South African popular culture. These took the form of comic strips, comical memes, and satirical reels from various social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, WhatsApp, Twitter, and YouTube. The humorous responses, primarily in English as South Africa’s lingua franca, were produced by a range of content creators—from celebrities like Trevor Noah and other regular content creators to unknown beneficiaries of virality—representing a diversity of cultures, humour styles, contexts and audiences. We created a comprehensive list of all the humorous items that readily lent themselves to interpretive analysis in terms of an anthropomorphic portrayal of Eskom as the abuser in an ongoing abusive relationship with the South African citizenry suffering from a victim mentality. The main aim of the article is to demonstrate the pervasiveness of this portrayal, the significance of which lies in its capacity to open up avenues for further philosophical reflection and sociological research.


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Author Biography

Jennalee Donian, Nelson Mandela University

NIHSS Postdoctoral Fellow, Humanities Faculty, Nelson Mandela University


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How to Cite

Hurst, Andrea, and Jennalee Donian. “Laughing When the Lights Go Out: Humour and the Electricity Crisis in South Africa”. Phronimon, 21 pages.



Research Articles
Received 2023-10-24
Accepted 2024-05-02
Published 2024-05-23