Scene 8: Enjoying Electricity

Thursday, December 11th


The Energy Team visited Flamingo Crescent 27 days ago to gain a deeper understanding of the community’s energy practices and needs. During this month, the community has had significant changes, due in part to the WPI project team working there. A playground was built in the center of the community, the electricity was connected to every shack, and a crèche is almost finished. The team decided to go back to Flamingo Crescent to understand how people adapted to these changes and ask about their experience with electricity. Since there was a heavy workload this week, the team split into two groups again. Jing and Rachel went to Flamingo, while Alex and Tati stayed back at the Lodge to finish more writing.

Cast of Characters

Yolanda is a community member who has helped the WPI Flamingo team during the re-blocking process. She will be a cook at the crèche after it is finished.

Elizabeth is another community member who will cook with Yolanda at the crèche once it is finished. Her house was burned down two years ago during the large fire.


Flamingo Crescent is an informal settlement twenty minutes away from Cape Town. The community has been going through the re-blocking process to upgrade informal shacks and community space. There are approximately 350 people who live in the 100 shacks. The community was connected to electricity for the first time two and a half weeks ago. During this visit, a few community members invited us into their shacks to tell us about their new way of life with electricity.


Flamingo Crescent


When we arrived, Yolanda was sweeping the dust at the playground. Although it took her a while to recognize us from the last time we interviewed her, she was excited to see us again and agreed to have another discussion with us. We asked about her experience with the electricity so far, and the costs associated with it. She was very happy to be using electricity again, as her previous house had it. When the City of Cape Town turned on the electricity they provided everyone ten free initial units of electricity. This lasted two weeks for her electric stove, fridge, and television. Since then, she has spent R10 on another eight units. Some community members overload the power systems by plugging in too many electronic appliances and then trip the system because they are not familiar with how it works. Yolanda has been passionate about educating people about electricity and with her help Flamingo Crescent community members can quickly adapt to their new life style. The full Interview with Yolanda after electricity was turned on in Flamingo Crescent is available here.


Resident of Flamingo using a Gulley

As Elizabeth walked by, Yolanda introduced us to her; she will be the cook with Yolanda when the crèche opens in January. Elizabeth really enjoys the electricity so far: “It is much safer than candles and better than open fire [gulleys].” She currently owns a stove, kettle, and toaster, but still wants a washing machine. Elizabeth plans on buying one before the crèche opens because she will then be too busy cooking for the children. She did not see a need for other appliances, like a microwave, since she has her stove. After our short conversation with Elizabeth, we walked around the community with Yolanda to ask different people about their experiences with the new electricity. We saw one man who was boiling water on gulley, so we asked Yolanda if this was still common in the community. She explained there are people in the community who still use the old cooking methods because they cannot afford to buy an electric stove. The cheapest stove costs R100.

The first shack we visited was an elderly lady’s home. Inside there was a bed, small table, chair, and a desk. When we were welcomed in, the lady was sitting on the chair while her friend was sitting on the bed. Yolanda translated into Xhosa as we introduced ourselves and asked her about being connected to the electricity. She was happy with the electricity and had not encountered any problems yet. However, she still cooks on a gulley since she does not have an electric stove. The friend who was sitting on the bed, on the other hand, bought a stove, a television, and a few other electric appliances, and has been enjoying the benefits of the electricity.



After saying goodbye to the two ladies, we followed Yolanda around the community to find more people to speak with. There was a lady sitting on the side of a road, so we stopped and talked to her. This lady has a television and new gas stove and is happy “to not need to cook outside anymore.” We then talked to an elderly lady carrying a small boy. She is “very happy with the electricity.” Although, she cannot afford an electric stove right now, she has been able to buy a kettle. She also mentioned all the recent change in Flamingo, especially the painting that made the community brighter, and looks forward to her home being painted soon too. Another lady who sat outside was very happy because she did not need to use candles anymore, “it will not cause any more burning.”


Flamingo Crescent Community Members

Next, Yolanda escorted us to another shack. This home was bigger than the first, and very well decorated. It had two rooms, separated by a tin wall in the middle. One room was a bedroom, while the other was a living room with a small table and a couple chairs. On one side of the wall, the owner had a teacup collection displayed on a shelf. There were also fake oranges in the center of the table, which added color into the house. In this shack, there were two elderly ladies. The owner used to have a generator, but now she uses the electricity from the city, and has been enjoying the benefits of it. She cooks on her electric stove and has a fridge, but had to send it away for repair because it was leaking. She especially likes the light that came with the electric box: “It is very bright at night.”

After leaving the shack, we talked to a couple more people along the main road that ran through the community, and received similar responses. However, one group of women sitting at the end of the road have had a different experience with the electricity. While they are happy with it like everyone else, they cannot afford any new appliances so their way of life has not changed significantly. In the future they hope to buy an electric stove and other appliances. We were invited into one last shack. The shack was the same size as the previous one, but the owner divided the space into a kitchen and a bedroom. For electric appliances, he had a fridge, microwave, television, and an oven, but the stove is gas. While we were asking about costs associated with the appliances, water was boiling on the stove. He said the gas tank needs to be replaced every month and costs R250. So far, he has only paid R60 for electricity since the city provided the ten free units on installation almost three weeks ago.

Since we did not want to take up anymore of Yolanda’s time, we ended our visits with community members and expressed our appreciation. Jing and Rachel then helped the Flamingo team paint around the crèche and playground and interacted with the kids.


Rachel and Jing with the kids

Reflection and Learning
This visit to Flamingo Crescent provided us a significant amount of energy information, and allowed us to witness firsthand a community’s transition to electricity, as well as the adaptations people must make to a new lifestyle. The contrast between our two visits were substantial; both in energy practices and community member outlook. Through these discussions, we gained valuable information on the usage of electricity and its associated costs, which will greatly help us estimate how much money the Wonderbag can save. We also found that an electricity education session is needed since many community members lack basic knowledge on how to use electricity. Finally, we realized that although the City of Cape Town has provided electricity, many community members were not able to afford electric appliances, and therefore could not fully benefit from it.

Scene 9: Collaboration for Future Implementation