Solar Light in Enkanini, South Africa

      By Shawna Snow, Founder Stichting Reckoning

    Enkanini is an informal settlement at the edge of Stellenbosch, South Africa. It’s home to over 8,000 people, but you won’t find it on google maps.


    An informal settlement means the people are squatting on government property, so they are not formally recognized by the government. Therefore, they received little to no government services: running water, electricity, sewage, trash removal, etc. There are countless settlements like this in South Africa. 

    InSite, a youth leadership program run by Stichting Reckoning has been working alongside the residents of Enkanini since 2011. We started coming because of another local NGO at the time, Serve the City, SA, who wanted to bring some attention to the people who were being ignored and overlooked.


    Over the years, we’ve done many families and business strengthening projects, and have supported what the community has said they’ve needed. Unfortunately, we’ve only been present in a portion of the settlement, for no other reason as we are a small organization and are there for short periods of time and haven’t had the capacity to reach the whole of Enkanini.


    The residents of Enkanini have many challenges. Like everyone else, they want to be able to provide a life for their children: education, clothes, food, shelter and give them what they need to live a happy life. Living in a place where the basic services are not provided makes this more difficult.


    As electricity is not available, many residents use kerosene lanterns which are dangerous. The fumes are toxic and the flames cause fires. Many children grow up in fear of fire. They even have a children’s song about it: “There’s a fire on the mountain. Run! Run!” Not too long ago a fire broke out and burned up 200 homes within hours.


    Solar power is a safe alternative. Solar power is virtually free. Solar power keeps residents off the grid as it doesn’t require any assistance from the municipality. For all these reasons, we’ve worked with the leadership of Enkanini to help promote this safe and free alternative. We’ve brought in Waka Waka lights for students so they have light to study when it gets dark.


    Yondela, who has strong leadership in the community, has worked with the Stellenbosch Sustainability Institute, helping them do research and helped launch Ishack, a service that gives solar power to private homes. It powers a light, major appliance, and a phone or other handheld device.


    The politics around solar energy is complicated. It goes back to the promises of Mandela. A home for every person is what he promised. The current government isn’t even close to fulfilling this promise and it most likely never will. Nonetheless, many living in Enkanini and other informal settlements like it, are still waiting.


    Local municipalities started making deals with residents to help settle this issue. Offering basic services as a consolation for not getting a home. Some want electricity and see if as a basic right they deserve. Others don’t want it as it would give up the right for a home. Solar power is somewhere in the middle of the controversy.


    As the Signify Foundation has partnered with us to install 10 solar street lights in this community, we wonder what the impact will be. It’s been a two-year process from the initial contract to the final installation. In that time, some support has waned.


    Our InSite team leaves tomorrow, 22 Feb to join the residents for about a week. We’ll be using the majority of our time to interview residents all over Enkanini, collect stories and see what we can uncover. We think people need to be heard and their concerns need to be noted and addressed.


    It’s our aim to help the leadership of Enkanini to help foster solidarity for solar energy, and leapfrog them into a cleaner, safer, and more independent future. It’s our best chance at seeing these lights intact and functioning for years to come.

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