There were over two thousand violent crimes in Diepsloot, a disadvantaged community in the North of Johannesburg in 2016, the detailed crime statistics is available.

Philile Development Centre children

It was dusk when we descended on the streets of Diepsloot but the dark was near and as we set up our equipment on the windy and chilly Thursday evening we knew it would be a long night.

We were set to shoot a video with a resident of Diepsloot, in order to capture the daily fears of many in the community. As is typical of any shoot, things did not go as swiftly as anticipated, and as we tried to fix the light, the angles, couch the character, it went on for hours, and hours. As the night moved along, the voices in my head had started their deliberation. The first voice was quite uplifting, “you are doing something noble” it said “this video will tell the world the daily struggles of Diepsloot and you would have contributed in bringing hope to this community”.

This voice was saying all the right things, just what I needed to hear to overcome the fear that was beginning to mount as midnight approached. The second voice wasn’t quite as friendly, it wanted me out of the danger zone immediately - this was a voice I was happy to ignore! I managed to do so until it was past midnight when the voice desperately resorted to blackmail and cheekily reminded me of my parental responsibilities. That argument was hard to ignore.

I had barely processed my response when a flashing police car pulled over.  Barely stepping out of his marked SAPS car the police officer  shouted at us in Zulu and despite my feeble understanding of the language, it was easy to decipher that we were being given an ultimatum. Driving  off he screamed, much louder and in English this time,  “pack up your things and leave, this is Diepsloot”.  By now, it was 12:45AM, and  I needed no more convincing. It was time to pack up and leave and so we did. As we drove off that night, I hoped that we had enough to tell the story of despair and fear which the deadly darkness brought over Diepsloot every night. 

In the days leading up to the video shoot, we spent a considerable amount of time in Diepsloot (extension 12), speaking with community members. We wanted to know more about their concerns, as residents. Crime is by far Diepsloot’s biggest challenge - rape, murder, kidnappings, are a daily reality. But Diepsloot’s troubles go beyond crime - abject poverty, lack of access to healthcare, potable water, and formal shelters are among many other urgent needs.

My limitations in Zulu meant I could only speak to a few residents. Optimising my use of Unjani and Siyabonga (meaning ‘how are you’ and ‘thank you’ in Zulu), I managed to sustain a decent conversation with five people. The conversations were deep and profound. I first spoke to two young men who were loitering in the streets at 10:00am. They were honest about the lack of opportunities for young people like themselves. “We have no jobs” they said, “there’s nothing for us to do”, they continued. I wondered if this too was contributing to the high crime in the community? I then spoke with a woman who was returning home from work. She worked at the shopping centre in Fourways, an upmarket community not too far away. For her, taking a night shift was out of the question as this would mean having to spend the night at the shopping centre just to avoid coming home late on her own.

The residents' stories were difficult to listen to, and one in particular struck me at my core. I remember vividly, a woman who was on her way home from a nearby clinic with her six month old baby boy. She told me she had been waiting to see a doctor for three long hours. The boy was finally consulted, but in bitter disappointment, she pulled out the pack of Panado she had received. The child had a severe cough and the wheezing sound of his breath was so audible I wondered why he had not received a referral instead. “Panado is the cure for all of a poor man’s sickness” the mom told me, “no one cares for us or our children, they give us panado for everything”.

Children playing at the Philile Development Centre

The reality is harsh in Diepsloot - it is important not to shy away from that - but it is also important to remember that the people living in Diepsloot are also just a community looking for a better future for themselves and their children. Of course solar energy would only solve some of the problems that people are living with in Diepsloot. However, the children of the Diepsloot Philile creche stand to benefit from this initiative . They will receive warm meals daily and when they retire to their shacks in the evening they will walk through well lit, safer streets. The adults going to literacy classes at the creche in the evening will also be able to learn in well-lit rooms, and the community around the creche will not have to walk through dark streets at night. This project is one step towards creating communities that are a refuge.

Providing power through solar, the streetlights can bring hope to Diepsloot by: 

  1. Lighting up the crime hotspots so that Diepsloot residents might begin to feel safe in the community in which they live in.
  2. Providing the children supported by the Philile Foundation with access to warm meals, heated classrooms and safer streets.
  3. Decentralising energy solutions so that underprivileged communities can be empowered by having access to energy that can help them build their small business activities.
  4. Showcasing the opportunities of clean renewable energy. This will demonstrate how solar energy not only empowers communities, but can help them step out of poverty. 
  5. Fighting crime in Diepsloot, it takes us one step close to fighting crime in South Africa .
  6. The solar streetlights model is one that could and should be replicated across the country by local authorities that are struggling to deliver services to off-grid communities. And in fact, ordinary streetlights can be retrofitted to become solar streetlights across the country.
  7. It feels good to do good

Greenpeace is working with the Philile Foundation to bring solar energy to a community that is visibly plagued by crime, but at the heart of it, is a community with hopes and aspirations just like the community that we live in. We too can make a difference and contribute to building a positive environment for the residents of Diepsloot. To bring hope to Diepsloot click here.