Solar lights to be replaced in Enkanini
This is what justice looks like. It’s about doing what is right when no one can force you to do it. Signify (formerly the Philips Foundation) chose to replace the lights with a better model, with a longer maintenance agreement because those involved wanted to make things better for the residents of Enkanini. They realized the first installation didn’t work, not by the fault of the community, and chose to replace them with a better product.
Once we were informed that Signify was willing to replace the lights, we needed to demonstrate to them that the community wanted replacement lights and that they were willing to take care of them so that these new ones wouldn’t be vandalized - lights that are vandalized will not be serviced by Philips and the community would be responsible to repair the lights - which means in all practicality, they would cease to work.
At the end of January, Ari and I flew to South Africa to assess the situation and see if replacing the lights was what the community wanted, to make sure they understood the agreement and to see if we could help build more of an alliance with the local municipality.
In four days we accomplished more than we’d been able to do in a year. It was as if every door we needed was opened and everyone we needed to speak with was waiting for us to arrive. We interviewed 70% of the people that volunteered to help protect the original lights to hear their stories and to answer their questions. Yondela, the organizer and community representative for the lights (InSiteSA’s Co-Director) organized an impromptu community meeting where over 60 people attended to speak about the lights and over 40 signed up to show support for them and to help take care of them.
We met with the relevant people within the municipality who were eager to cooperate and be involved in the process as needed. We met with Ishack, a local business that installs a small solar unit for the residents for a nominal fee. We met with our local human rights lawyer who offered to be on call if needed as electricity is not a luxury but a right and it can not be denied to residents of South Africa.
We also met with a master baker who will train Yondela’s new baker so they can restart the bakery in Enkanini and flew in InSite SA’s other Co-Director, Phillipine and her son Seki to draft their upcoming youth job camp initiative.
With much relief and excitement, I was able to come back home and send a glowing report to Signify that the community wants the lights and were very grateful for them (when they worked). I heard stories of how it allowed them to go to the toilets at night as they don’t have plumbing in the homes. How it provided a safe path home for those getting home late from work, or those who leave in the early hours of the morning. Others spoke about how they felt safer and it made it easier for parents to pick up the youngsters at the day care which is directly under one of the street lights.
I know for most of us, these issues are something we probably don’t even think about as it’s a service we get without even needing to ask for it. We go about our lives with electricity in our homes and outside, 4G unlimited data plans and wifi nearly everywhere. Even though I have an understanding of the reality of not having these services, I have no idea what it would be like to live this way, feeling like I don’t deserve to have these things, or feeling like I am not worthy or important enough for others to care what I have or don’t have.
Standing with our partners in South Africa on issues like electricity, trash services, plumbing, etc are on the surface about the practicality of them but the bigger picture is more about human dignity and respect.