Photography by:
  • Clive Hassall, Clive Hassall, GCRO

Off-grid cities: Elite infrastructural secession and social justice

The Off-Grid Cities project is an NRF-funded project that focuses on how urban elites are seceding from state-provided infrastructure networks in favour of private hybrid and off-grid technologies. These actions are transforming the provision and consumption of services in cities, with consequences for climate change and social justice. The project builds on the social justice literature and introduces it into climate change scholarship in the global South, recognising that the actions of one social group affect resource allocation in highly unequal cities, and that the infrastructures of elites tend to be absent from urban climate thinking.

Hence, the core objective of the project is to explore how elite infrastructure transitions need to be integrated into debates on, and practices of, producing cities that are environmentally sustainable and socially just. This will be done through a comparative analysis of electricity and water infrastructure in South Africa, focused on practices of elite households and businesses, as well as the policies and programmes of relevant government stakeholders responsible for this infrastructure.

The project team comprises a group of academics and students from a range of institutions including GCRO, the University of the Western Cape, the University of Cambridge, Cardiff University and the University of Sheffield

Project updates

The project has entered fieldwork, with interviews being conducted in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni with a range of stakeholders including, residents, businesses, off-grid technology suppliers, government officials and experts.

Together with the NRF, this project is funding two Postdoctoral Fellows, one PhD student and two Masters students:

  • Temba Middleman (Postdoctoral Fellow, UWC)
  • Simbarashe Nyuke (Postdoctoral Fellow, UJ/GCRO)
  • Eyong Tarh (PhD student, UWC)
  • Miguel Isaac (Masters student, UWC)
  • Zackeen Thomas (Masters student, UWC)

The project website can be accessed here.

Upcoming events

A writing workshop for the project team is currently being planned during November 2022 at Wits University.



Blog posts

Middelmann, T. (2022, October 12). 'What is the private sector’s role in South Africa’s public energy infrastructure?'. Available online

Watterson, J. (2022, September 14). 'South Africa’s transition to renewables: The business of off-grid energy'. Available online

Tarh, E.M. (2022, May 6). 'Energy Justice in Africa: What role can renewable energy play?'. Available online

Project workshops

Fieldwork workshop, Cape Town. June 2022

Design and methodology workshop, virtual. September & October 2022

Project inception workshop. March 2022

Last updated: 19 September 2022.


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