For a quick recap on the EWB project…We are trying to find clean energy alternatives to the burning of harmful treated wood by township caterers. The main technology we were looking at was a biogas digester. This large bucket-type device would be buried in the earth beneath the caterer, and works on the chemistry of anaerobic decoposition of organic material to produce methane gas. In English, this means that there is bacteria in the digester, and if you throw in the right mix of organic waste such as kitchen scraps, manure, water, this will decompose and you get gas on which you can cook! The remaining matter is syphoned off, and is really great to use as compost. Sound too good to be true? Well it is.This device has never really been used in an Urban context such as the one of informal settlement caterers, and I suppose there’s very good reasons why…

Despite our best efforts, every way we looked at this, things didn’t look good.

  • If the becomes too acidic, the bacteria die, requireing re-inoculation which takes two weeks. This wont fly with a catering business.
  • A delicate balance of water and waste needs to be kept. Due to the notorious dryness of the Cape Flats, this won’t bode well.
  • The digester needs to be monitored and controlled by a skilled person, which would be difficult to ensure in the environment in question, with such a high density of people in the area, and safety concerns being a premium.
  • And lastly, one unit costs R35 000! This will be a able to provide gas for one caterer. We can buy 70 energy efficient stoves for this price!

I would have really have liked to make this work, seeing as it would be something totally unprecidented and new. Simply put, it would have been a real achievement! But I’m not so sre anymore. I’ve had to weigh up the benefits of personal acheivement and recognition against the that of reaching out to as many people as possible. I think with all thigs considered, the point that wins it for me is that with the stoves, I’ll simply be making a difference to many more lives, with a project that can very easily be repeated in other environments, with very little extra research or integration.

But at least I can say this: we looked at the bio-digester intesely, comprehensively and optimistically. Its as much as we could have done, and I’m satified with the direction in which we’re going now.

One more thing…I’ve been working with a lady, Caroline from UCT’s Social Science center. She was very involved in the Upgrade of Warwick Junction in Durban, the 10 year undertaking that theCity of Cape Town is using as a precident for their Nyanga Interchange Upgrade (the site of my

project). Anyway, apart from having written the book (I mean literally written the book) on Warwick “Working Warwick”, she has been actively involved in WIEGO (Women in Informal Economy: Globalizing and Organizing) and has just returned from their AGM in Brazil.

This India-borne organization is HUGE, and works with self-employed women, supporting them, empowering them, and helping them lift their households and communities out of abject poverty. Check them out on:

Other than that, I am STILL in Joburg…:) Should really return to the rainy Cape soon…