||Democracy has announced victory over totalitarian and colonial regimes all over the world, yet with each victory, there appears a “dark force,” an imminent threat to the democratic state, be it terrorists, criminals, or extremists. This “dark force” has a double historical appearance. It is part phantasm, ascribed the power to spread illegitimate violence and unrest: the mysterious instigators sought by the NIA. At the same time, it is made of flesh-and-blood: the bodies shot with rubber bullets and protesters dragged off to prison.
This paper considers how this so-called “dark force” appears out of protest in democratic South Africa, focusing on eruptions in townships and informal settlements over service disconnection. To do this, I look at a short history of ‘the cut-off’ and protests that surround it. A cut-off, in general terms, describes when the state or a corporation – with assistance from police or hired security – disconnects services from a household due to nonpayment. Increasingly in South Africa, cut-offs happen by way of pre-paid meters, set for automatic disconnection when bills go unpaid.