Mkhululi Ncube, Feature
HAVE you ever imagined living in an archetypal rural area without having to use firewood for domestic energy and paraffin or candles for lighting?
This has become a reality in many communities in Bulilima District, Matabeleland South Province, where they are embracing renewable energy in a big way.
The use of solar for lighting and other appliances as well as gas for cooking has become popular in rural Bulilima homesteads where, like fashion, it is spreading far and wide.
In addition to modern homes that resemble urban settings, it is no longer surprising that upon entering a homestead, one’s sight is quickly drawn to big solar systems and imposing gas cylinders and gas stoves or refrigerators that usher one to a different world of smart rural living.
While for millions of urban dwellers using gas is out of necessity due to increased power cuts, those in the countryside are adopting renewable energy models as a new way of enhancing their standard of living and exhibiting social status.
In the process, these villagers in Bulilima District, largely supported by their relatives in the diaspora (injiva), many of whom are based in South Africa and Botswana, are spearheading a bold energy revolution of using alternative sources of energy.
This revolution not only goes a long way in preserving the fast-depleting forests due to the wanton cutting down of trees for firewood and other uses but also promotes climate change adaptation and mitigation against environmental threats of desertification and land degradation.
Mrs Sisa Chitambo of Bhaladza Village in the Gwambe area who works in neighbouring Botswana says she has been exposed to the benefits of using gas as opposed to constantly hiring people to gather firewood. For this reason, she has bought a gas tank and a stove for home use.
“I work in Botswana and we use gas a lot so I thought of getting it for myself back home. Getting firewood is a challenge in our area and one has to own a scotchcart to be able to travel deep into the bush to collect firewood,” she said.
“During the rainy season, that comes with more challenges because wood gets wet. So, I bought myself this 48kg gas cylinder because in Botswana cylinders are very cheap. The challenge is filling the gas but I budget for it. Since I’m usually home during the Easter and the festive season, I can use this gas tank for a number of years.”
Mrs Chitambo uses gas mostly for cooking while she also has invested in solar energy to power a 38-inch television set and provide light.
She scoffed at sentiments that using gas is dangerous saying one needs proper safety information on how to handle it for best usage.
“Using gas is actually very easy because just like electricity, you just switch it on and off as well as adjust the flame it gives you. When I refill, I make sure I do it at a reputable service provider and ask them to check whether or not my tank is leaking,” she said.
“I make sure that the children don’t come near the tank and have drilled a hole into the wall so that the tank stays outside the house. While the cost of gas is expensive in the short term, it’s good in the long run.”
Her husband, Mr James Chitambo concurred saying using gas lessens the burden of searching for firewood on women and girls, which is a perennial yoke for many rural folk.
Mr Chitambo believes rural communities must be educated more on the different sources of energy to help prevent the destruction of forests.
“Women and girls are forced to travel long distances gathering firewood for cooking. This exposes them to danger as we’ve had some being raped and bitten by snakes. So by getting gas, I’ve protected my family from falling prey to these evils,” he said.
For 79-year-old *Mr Fanuel Ndlovu from the Thekwane area, the experience of using gas came as a surprise gift from his children who are based in South Africa.
“I never imagined I would use gas lapha ekhaya (in the rural areas) and was surprised when my children brought me a new 9kg cylinder and two plate gas stove during the just ended festive season,” he said.
“This is so convenient compared to firewood. It’s fast, efficient, and saves me the hassle of searching for firewood, especially when it’s raining.”
A fellow Bulilima villager, Mr Lindani Ncube, who has also adopted the use of gas said his biggest motivation was to make his life easier. He uses a 9kg gas cylinder which he supplements with firewood.
“Gone are the days when rural areas were associated with ukufuthwa yintuthu. Look at the houses that people are building; they have evolved over time. So, adopting other forms of energy is complementing that development. I bought this four plate gas stove and the fridge so that I can have a good life at home. This is not to say I no longer use firewood because I prefer isitshwala cooked over a fire. Slowly but surely we’re moving to modern forms of energy and a number of people are embracing it which is good for the environment,” said Mr Ncube.
He said the excessive cutting down of trees over the years has resulted in near depletion of the forests and adopting other forms of energy like gas will in the long run help address the problem of deforestation.
Mr Ncube said using gas was also helping his children learn about other sources of energy practically and not just from the books they use at school.
“In this area, one needs to travel close to 20km to gather firewood and that needs time and resources. I invested in gas energy to try and improve my quality of life. As you can see, my fridge is on and my wife can prepare meals and even bake using gas which makes things easy for us. When using firewood, you need more time but with gas it’s faster and one can invest their energy into other chores around the home. For safety, I make sure that I test for leaks by mixing water and sunlight liquid and pouring it near the regulator and if there are leaks, I’ll have it attended to,” he said.
Mr Ncube says using gas has developed in him an interest in joining his wife when she’s cooking because it is more flexible compared to cooking in a traditional hut.
Baking scones and roasting meat have become his favourite hobbies.
Mr Listen Moyo who is based in South Africa said he adopted the use of gas mainly to help his wife become comfortable with being at their rural home since she is used to the “easy” life in South Africa.
He says he has a combined 48kg which he uses only during the holidays when he is home.
“We mainly use it for cooking and for the fridge so that we’re able to store perishables. It makes life easy for us when we’re at home with my wife who is not accustomed to rural life. With gas, she’ll not be far from the life she knows.
“I’m still starting off and I’m yet to buy donkeys which I can use for gathering firewood so using gas is easy because once empty, I can transport it with my car to South Africa and fill it without extra costs,” said Mr Moyo.
He said he installed a gas leak detector to prevent any mishaps from happening.
Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority Chief Executive Officer Mr Edington Mazambani said they have realised the growing use of gas outside urban areas and are taking their educational awareness campaigns to rural areas as well.
Mr Mazambani said it was crucial for anyone using LP gas to take precautionary measures to avoid any mishaps.
“The principles and guidelines to the safe use, storage and handling of LP gas applies to all who use it, including those in the rural areas. A maximum of 9kgs should be stored indoors. Keep the cylinder in a vertical position with the valve on top. Keep a distance of at least 2 metres between your gas cylinder and coal/ wood stoves, any electrical sockets or electrical appliances. Ensure that there’s always adequate ventilation and don’t keep LP gas cylinders inside cupboards. Don’t keep a total of more than 19kg of LP cylinders inside a single housing unit. LP cylinders are not to be placed in close proximity to the stove or any other source of flame or heat. Always use the correct rubber hose and check it regularly for cracks. Change the rubber hose at least once every 18 months,” he said.