A single mum, a single dad and a solar system.

May 9, 2015

Article from Simplicity & the fourth life

In a rural village on the Wild Coast of South Africa we installed a small PV system for No-size (No-si-zey), a single mum with a family of thirteen. Her late husband was a miner who passed away several years ago and since his death her only source of income came from government allowances totalling R800 a month (AUD $85). The lighting came from candles, her family going through two packs each month.

Where did the PV system come from?

When we were in George we met with a company called Specialized Solar Systems who are committed to lighting up Africa with solar energy. They have a soft spot for single mothers with low income and generously donated two PV systems for us to install along our travels. This is the first SSS installation.

Where is the installation?

In Mtyubeni village with a population of approx. 600, which is a 45 minutes drive from Coffee Bay. We chanced upon it by staying at Mdumbi Backpackers, who a) pointed us to the direction of the local energy co-operative and b) were really helpful with advice on community involvement – which isn’t a surprise as the key founder grew up here!

Visitors who have been there might be surprised to hear that the village is un-electrified since there are power lines running overhead. We were told that only a handful of people in the Mankosi community, consisting of 10 villages, are connected to the grid and all those people are, er, white. Yes, white people told us that. No-size’s village had no electricity, not even solar so she was the first to use electric lights.


How was the community involved?

The part that was a little mystifying to us, before we talked to people who worked at a local non-profit, Transcape, was how to gift just one system in a completely un-electrified village and not upset anybody in the process. Cue community involvement.

Originally we were worried installing a ‘free’ system would hurt the local energy business so we spoke to both the owner, Zuco, and the former facilitator, Hyman, who both strongly supported the donation. Zuco then helped us out with the community consultation on who should receive the system by talking to the headsmen of the three closest villages. Between them they decided No-size was the poorest single mum of the three villages and hence the most deserving. I don’t think I would’ve had the gall to suggest choosing the poorest person but it was a good call as everyone was happy for her.

The installation:

Just before we installed the system I asked No-size how she felt about the system. She said she was excited because the candles aren’t bright and now she could save the money she used to spend on candles.

We had agreed with Zuco to do the installation together; it was a really simple system but it was important for everyone to do it together – in the end there were seven people installing one panel, three light bulbs, a battery and a motion sensor. The joke about how many engineers it takes to change a light bulb did cross my mind.

Don’t worry my dears, the actual system is far more efficient than the installation was, and the installation was a lot of fun with so many people – there was No-size, three of her grand children, three paparazzi/friends from the Eco-centre, one helpful neighbour, Zuco and ourselves.

In the end Zuco did quite a bit of the install which is why we’ve nicknamed this install “Single dad installs solar system for single mum”.

Breaking convention

This bit isn’t about solar energy versus candles versus paraffin versus grid etc. It’s about the single dad. He’s the first and only single dad in the village and I’m guessing the entire community. It’s typical for a guy to leave child rearing to the mother of the child or his mother and not take much of a role. Zuco is really setting a remarkable example and everyone knows how lucky his boy is. The mamas in the village all know, they keep asking Zuco to marry their daughters.

Photo from a dusty camera:  No-size's grandson, Daniel, Zuco, No-size and grandaughters, us

Posted in: Rural Electrification