Attie van Niekerk, Nova Institute


In 1998, Nova started to work on air pollution in the Highveld. ICCO/Kerk in Actie started to support us in in 2007. The Highveld is an area east of Pretoria. It is mostly grassland, with good water and beautiful wetlands. In the previous century Toon van den Heever (1894-1956) wrote a poem about it, from the perspective of a mine worker in Johannesburg:


This paradise has largely been lost. The Highveld has, apart from grasslands and wetlands, lots of water and coal. It attracted huge coal mines and industries. The economy is growing, we have fuel for our cars and we have electricity. The industries and mines have attracted large numbers of people in search for jobs, also from neighbouring countries. Many of them end up, jobless, in squatter camps near townships and towns. Most of these have been built where there were only farms before.


Large areas of grassland have been destroyed by coal mining, and air pollution means that this area is not a place anymore with clean air “(W)aar 'n mens nog vry kan asemhaal”.


In 2007 the Highveld Priority Area in the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa was declared as a “priority area” due to the elevated levels of pollution.


Nova has been working with communities and industries in this area since 1998 to reduce air pollution caused by the domestic use of coal. Our Basa Magogo projects, that were also supported by ICCO and Kerk in Actie, were developed and implemented in this area. This has placed us in a good position to play a role in the present initiatives by major role players to drastically reduce the pollution in the area.


 Making houses energy efficient reduces the need for burning coal to keep warm. That reduces air pollution, but it has lots of other advantages too. In our research we have learned quite a lot about the way people in the townships experience life. A few examples follow.


Experience of severe temperatures

Most of the low cost houses are energy inefficient. People say: When it is hot outside the house is also hot but when it is cold outside it is also cold inside.


Some experience severely cold temperatures, as can be seen in these quotations:

“Sometimes it is so cold you can’t even do anything until in the evening. It is very cold. I am also sick, and if it is too cold I will die at any time. “


“I have a child, I would sometimes stop her from getting out of bed if I don’t have enough coal, so that she can have a warm environment. We would sleep until 9am. When it gets warm, that is when we would get up. “


“In this house it is cold. Sometimes it is very cold here in this house to such an extent that when you wake up, you can’t, it is too cold. You are held here in this house by the cold in this house. Since they put the cladding and the ceiling the conditions have changed. “


Extreme heat can also be a problem:

“No it is not too hot to such extent that one can go as far as being drunk by heat, it is just a normal heat not too much like before. Q: What do you mean to be drunk, can you explain what do you mean by getting drunk? A: I mean when you feel like you are now dizzy because of the heat. ”


People have to burn a lot of coal to keep warm:

“I burn a lot of fire and use more coal. I don’t see any choice, what else can we do? “


Scarcity of resources (pressure to survive)


One gets an impression of how tough life is for some if you note that people would buy electricity in quantities as small as R10 (about half an euro), or that people have to go to bed because they cannot afford to heat the house:


“In a month we would buy electricity maybe three times. Q: When you buy it three times, how much would you spend each time? A: Sometimes we buy for R50, R20 or R10. “


“Sometimes you will find that there is no wood or coal and the food does not get well cooked. “


“I am not working…if you have to ask for money your family would end up saying you are a nuisance [Both laugh]….and now I’m also held back by my sister who is disabled. When I think of looking for a job and going to work, I think of her, she can’t bath herself, she can’t cook; she was hit by a stroke. Yes I have to help her. In the morning when I wake up I start with the children, I bath them and they go to school and my child has not yet reached that level of going to school without being bathed properly, when I’m with him, when they have left for school, I clean the house and after that I help my sister. I fix up her bed and then bath her and give her food. “


The Nova mission is to develop and promote ways (models, products, technologies, practices) to improve the quality of life of households. Nova executes its mission together with household residents and networks.


We have an opportunity to execute our mission in the Highveld Priority Area.


The poet Toon van den Heever felt that clean air, the possibility to breathe freely, makes it possible to believe in God. We think that our belief in the God of the Bible, who gives life in its fullness, should inspire us to work for clean air, for healthy households in a healthy environment. That is why we are specifically grateful for the support from the church.


Posted on 11 Aug 2016


Nova offers a range of services to corporate entities, governmental organisations and NGOs including Community Surveys, Consultancy and Corporate Social Responsibility Project Research and Development.




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