Bilal Randeree
Bilal Randeree

A tale of two men

The South African

In a rural village in the Eastern Cape, a young boy runs after a plane dropping election pamphlets. It’s 1994 in the new South Africa and everyone is excited about change and the future. This boy from a rural village, inspired by the plane in the sky, messes around in the simple school laboratory. Over time he develops a rocket fuel that he enters into a science contest. The fuel wins him the main prize at the contest and a scholarship to a prestigious university in the US after school.

Our village boy takes a tremendous leap from the rural African village and moves to the US to study science. In the village, he walked across a few fields over a little stream to get to school. After school he helped the villagers harvest the vegetables from the communal field for the day’s meal and gathered wood for the fire that was lit in the centre of the village for cooking and baking bread. The spirit of Ubuntu that existed in the village, where everyone cared and served each other, was not easy to come by at university. Not that anybody cared for him there, but life was much busier and people had less time.

He studies hard and graduates with excellent results. The rewards and prizes he is awarded in the US make him a well-known figure in the world of science. He returns to South Africa and takes up a position as a top scientist at a research centre in Johannesburg.

Not forgetting where he comes from, he continuously sends money back to the village. He upgrades the school and starts a science foundation that funds others with talent from rural schools. Many follow in his footsteps, supported by the help he provides. The people of his village become prosperous as their sons and daughters become successful and move up in the world. For most, success is leaving behind the “backward village” and moving to the “prosperity of city life”.

The Dane

A young man completes his university studies in finance at the University of Copenhagen. He tries to find a job but things are difficult with the financial crises. Disillusioned with repeated failed attempts, he spends hours on the internet searching for employment. One day, while randomly browsing the internet, he learns about a place called Dyssekilde. It is an eco-village just on the outskirts of Copenhagen. The eco-village has a small and established community that lives a self-sustaining and simple life.

This young man is so impressed with the concept that he decides to pack some of his things and goes to visit the eco-village. He is amazed by what he finds there. The villagers have a very communal structure and they all help each other out. They grow their own vegetables, recycle most (if not all) of their waste, have wind fans to generate electricity and their own willow wastewater cleansing facility. He decides to move in and spends his little savings to rent a place in the village until he is able to afford his own home there. He describes the atmosphere in the eco-village: “There is this wonderful sense of ubuntu here.”

Does anyone else see the cycle here?

How do we ensure that people in villages don’t all rush to the cities only to realise that the future is back where they came from?

Can technology and innovation be used to improve the comfort and standard of living in rural villages while not losing any of the positive aspects that city dwellers now seek?

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Note: Though the above story is fictional, it was inspired by true events.

Ubuntu: An ethical concept of African origin emphasising community, sharing and generosity.

Johannesburg: Is one of the 40 largest metropolitan areas in the world, one of Africa’s only three global cities and is the largest city in South Africa.

Copenhagen: Is the capital and largest city of Denmark.

Siyabulela Xuza is from Umtata in the Eastern Cape. Nasa’s Lincoln Laboratory was so impressed by his talents and achievements that they have named a minor planet after him. Xuza is currently an undergraduate engineering student at Harvard University, he was awarded a prestigious scholarship there last year. He joined the Harvard Forum for International Leadership where he was exposed to the issues of climate change. He says that addressing climate change is his “new passion”. He hopes to develop next-generation automobile and jet fuels to mitigate the hazards of the climate crisis.

Read his story here.

Dyssekilde eco-village was the first of its kind in Denmark.

More info here.

Eco Village

Electricity generating wind fan and willow forest irrigated by wastewater in Dyssekilde.