The Urban Movement Incubator Energy Democracy project (the Project) is a unique project as one of its aims is to encourage partnership with local governments to respond to its key climate action response objectives to reduce carbon emissions through community-led cleaner energy technologies that are affordable and accessible. Last week, the Project reached an important milestone. The installations of three solar demonstration units in eThekwini and eMalahleni have been completed, despite hardships and challenges faced by community partners.
The Project partnership consists of three community-based organisations (CBOs), namely, Vukani Environmental Movement (VEM), Abahlali baseMjondolo (ABM) and South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) supported by two service organisations, groundWork (Friends of the Earth, South Africa) and Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA). The solar photovoltaic (PV) installations were completed after a comprehensive process of strategic planning, community research and the compilation of a feasibility study to estimate the scope of renewable energy options that could be accessible, affordable and scalable and that will reduce energy poverty in South Africa. The installation of the demonstration units, development of training materials and community workshops provided learning opportunities to understand how renewable energy works.
CBOs endured several challenges that impacted on the completion of the installations including the heavy floods in KwaZulu Natal in April, and again in May, as well as a shortage of PV components due to high demand following the Presidential announcement in June of 100MW self-generation capacity. VEM in Emalahleni and SDCEA in Ethekwini completed their installations in April this year. However, Abahlali Base Mjondolo endured the wrath of the floods that destroyed communities homes and suffered the ultimate loss – the assassination of three active young leaders from their Ekhenana community in eThekwini: Lindokuhle Mnguni (1994-2022), Ayanda Ngila (1992-2022) and Nokuthula Mabaso (1981-2022) during the period of the Project. Finally, their installation was completed on 11 November 2022.
The containerised solar PV solution at Ekhenana now provides a safe space for learners to complete their homework and study and for the Frantz Fanon community school. S’bu Zikode of Abahlali expressed during the recent visit by the Norwegian Ambassador: “We are very encouraged by the perseverance of the community of eKhenana. The communal projects have all been re-established. A long held ambition for the commune was realised when we were able to install solar powered electricity, this is electricity that will do less harm to the world and that will be democratically controlled by the community rather than centrally controlled by a violent and corrupt state”.
For the first time ever, the CBOs have an uninterrupted supply of electricity without suffering the effects of load shedding. The Abahlali and VEM installations are off-grid, while the SDCEA installation is grid-tied, which means that they have the ability to feed electricity back into the grid in future, so that they can become energy producers and not just consumers. Ideally, being connected to the grid means that the cost of energy produced is reduced and the burden of maintenance and repair of systems is also reduced. The Austerville community often gather at the SDCEA offices during power outages to utilise the power of the sun to charge their devices and laptops and enjoy a hot cup of coffee.
Promise Mabilo from VEM and community members from Emalahleni have made great progress by meeting with the Mpumalanga provincial government in encouraging a partnership with the municipality. This is what makes the project a first of its kind. The province is committed to a just transition and climate action, and is seen as a key partner for further work envisaged next year, which includes scalable, accessible and affordable renewable energy for communities, and led by communities.
CBOs are encouraging communities, civil society and all spheres of government to visit their solar PV demonstration sites to learn from this project and build on the collective work that has been achieved in just eighteen months. People who have attended workshops learnt about the energy context including the just transition, how renewable energy works, which renewable energy systems work better for communities. Through these processes, communities are empowered to be at the forefront of the Just Transition and speak with “one voice” with the common goal of ensuring everyone is included in the changes made to the energy generation system. Empowering communities strengthens their ability to play a significant and meaningful role in the future of South Africa, ensuring equitable solutions that are not harmful to the environment and people and that energy poverty becomes history.
S’bu Zikhode, Abahlali baseMjondolo: “We are very encouraged by the perseverance of the community of eKhenana. The communal projects have all been re-established. A long held ambition for the commune was realised when we were able to install solar powered electricity, this is electricity that will do less harm to the world and that will be democratically controlled by the community rather than centrally controlled by a violent and corrupt state.”
Promise Mabilo (VEM): “We are very happy with the progress that has been made with the project, and in having solar demonstration units for creating awareness within our communities. What we want to see happening now, is for the government to partner with us in taking our initiative forward into the broader communities of Emalahleni. We want the local government to look into how community led renewable energy can be scalable. For example, working out how many panels can be connected to a transformer to service a block of community houses. We are ready to engage!”
Kershni Ramreddi (SDCEA): “The UMI Energy Democracy Project will always be a memorable one. From where we began to where we are now, looking back, I can say with certainty that it has been a journey that I will have with me for the rest of my life. In order to help us with the current climate catastrophe, this initiative demonstrates the beginning of a healthier and just future. Each organisation has experienced numerous challenges, notably in Abahlali, but perseverance and justice have never failed, and we are now on a path to success. While wanting change is simple, putting it into practice is challenging, yet communities and everyone engaged have not stopped and will not stop.”
Avena Jacklin (groundWork, Friends of the Earth South Africa): “Today is a victory for the shack dwellers of Ekhenana, for the movement of dignity to the homeless and the landless, and a victory to the frontline communities resisting inequality and standing together in solidarity for clean and accessible energy in the just transition!”
Yachika Reddy (Sustainable Energy Africa): “Energy services such as lighting, heating, warming, cooling, and media access among others are essential for human development and growth. This iconic solar powered demonstration unit in Ekhenana will showcase how through steadfast community leadership and collaboration, safe, reliable and clean energy can be accessed by residents to meet their basic and essential human energy needs. This is indeed a huge achievement and next steps must be to seek ways to expand this critically needed clean and safe energy access to unelectrified informal households.”
For more information please contact:
Promise Mabilo – Vukani Environmental Movement:
079 748 9115 /
Thapelo Mohapi – Abahlali baseMjondolo:
084 576 5117 /
Kershni Ramreddi – South Durban Community Environmental Alliance:
084 583 1232 /