Gwakwani: South Africa’s first smart rural village.
In South Africa’s north-east corner, not far from the borders of Zimbabwe and Mozambique, 100 people call the remote village of Gwakwani home. For years, Gwakwani was so isolated as to be beyond the influence of the 20th, let alone the 21st, century. It had no running water and electricity. Cell phone reception was patchy at best and internet access non-existent. The nearest essential services, such as schools and clinics, were – and still are – located between 6km and 20km away.
But the village’s fortunes changed in 2014, when UJ’s School of Electrical Engineering started to work with the chief and local council to introduce critical improvements.
WATER, LIGHTS AND OVENS FULL OF BREAD
“We started by replacing Gwakwani’s diesel borehole pump with a solar borehole pump, and built a network of taps and tanks,” says Cornay Keefer, the School of Electrical Engineering’s project manager. “This was followed by the installation of solar lights in the villagers’ homes, as well as solar streetlights.”
After lighting came economic empowerment. Gwakwani’s remoteness makes earning an income difficult and unemployment is high. The electrical engineering team got to work creating a solar bakery, where bread and other baked goods are now made and sold. Large cold storage units have also been installed, and a solar-powered crèche has been built for the village’s youngest residents.
Everything we have installed in Gwakwani can be monitored remotely.
~ Cornay Keefer, project manager at UJ’s School of Electrical Engineering.
“Sensors have been put in place all over the village and this data is fed back to a system I can monitor and control from UJ. I can see when the pressure in the water tanks is running low, what the ambient temperature inside the cold storage units is, and when the borehole pump is experiencing issues,” Cornay explains.
These remote monitoring solutions are made possible through an Internet of Things (IoT) network connection that UJ has developed in partnership with global communications provider Sigfox.
GWAKWANI AND BEYOND
In recent months, a community development trust – not just for the village, but for the region – has been established through the Industrial Development Corporation. A total of R5 million has been promised, which will be used to implement a community development plan that will benefit several villages in the area. Gwakwani – and the 4IR advances that have been used to address some of its most urgent needs – is just the beginning.