Programme manager: Decentralised Environmental Solutions

Sandile Mbatha

Knowing he would have to rebuild his family’s mud hut after each rainy season gave Sandile Mbatha a “bitter relationship with houses”. But he reckons that only made him stronger. Mbatha battled his way from Durban’s Nhlungwane informal settlement to a master’s in housing at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Stints working for corporates were useful but unfulfilling, and in 2011 Mbatha established a non-governmental organisation, Decentralised Environmental Solutions, in Durban for German organisation Borda.

The goal was to implement wastewater treatment and renewable energy systems that would make informal settlements independent and viable. Typical of his work is a pilot scheme at a 75-household community. Here a new technology, powered by the magic of gravity, is turning waste into greywater and fertiliser for community gardens, and even biogas for energy. Similar programmes at schools use vegetable gardens tended by students to raise money and supply feeding schemes, and should begin powering school kitchens soon.

— Ian Macleod