Domestic coal fires in so-called "informal dwellings" are one of the major contributors to high rates of air pollution and respiratory disease in and around the city of Johannesburg. But this situation may change, thanks to a new fire-building method invented by a South African grandmother.
A new way to make coal fire
With their megaphones and orange uniforms, these fieldworkers do not go unnoticed. This is Fine Town, a township south of Johannesburg. Every day, the fieldworkers walk around the townships to show the locals an innovative way to make smokeless coal fires.
"This method is a new way of making coal fire, such as to reduce the pollution, it heats quicker, it gets ready quicker, and then we also reduce the environmental impact, and also reduce climate change," said Matshepiso Makhabane, the director of this outreach program.
In some parts of Johannesburg, open air coal fires in informal dwellings are responsible for up to 70 percent of the air pollution - most of it coming from smoke. So what is this revolutionary smokeless method?
Well, it's all about order.
Most people here make a fire by igniting paper first, then wood, and then coal.
In the new method, it's coal first, then paper, and then wood. You light it, and finally, you place a small amount of coal over the wood. The difference is dramatic - no smoke.
Benefits - environment, health, saves money
And it benefits more than just the environment - says township resident Elisabeth Phiri. "Today, I've learn how to make coal fire much less smoke. My child will no longer be sick with the smoke. I also learn I should not sleep with it in the house because the children get sick due to the gas emissions," she said.
The credit for coming up with the new technique is generally ascribed to Nobelungu Mashinini, a South African grandmother. Her method has now been dubbed: Basa Ngengo Magogo - which in Zulu means: "make your fire like the old lady".
Mashinini’s face appears on posters and leaflets and the government has launched a wide campaign to teach people how to make a clean-burning fire.
The new method also saves money. Nora Mahlalela sells corn and meat by the main road of the township. She has been using it for 3 months.
"It changed my life because the method I was using before finished quickly. But this new method last longer," she said.
The says the new method saves her about $13 per week.
"I'm thinking to use the money to by corrugated iron to make shacks. So I can bring it to my hometown and have a place to stay there," Mahlalela said.
Of course, this method does not solve all problems. It reduces coal fire pollution by 80 percent, but the carbon dioxide emissions are still there.
And South Africa remains the number one polluter in Africa, in term of greenhouse gases, and the 11th in the world.