Stellenbosch University hands out 200 Candles of Hope in Macassar

Fires in communities that do not have access to electricity and therefore are dependent on candles, paraffin and other fuels, claim the lives of many every year – in the Western Cape, but also elsewhere in the country.

In a recent incident in Macassar nine people, including six children, were killed when a candle fell over and set their house alight.  This tragic story and many others like it were the motivation behind the Stellenbosch University’s Candle of Hope-initiative to inform communities about a simple, safe candle holder that could save their lives.

The simple, yet safe candle holder. (Photo: Justin Alberts)

The Candle of Hope is a candle holder that prevents a fire when the candle is knocked over. The University’s Division of Community Interaction handed out 200 of these candle holders to the community in Macassar at a special function on Wednesday.

At the event, Prof Russel Botman, Rector and Vice-Chancellor, said that people are too quick to say that they are ‘becoming part of the statistics’ . The challenge is to stop the count. “How can we stop the count? We have to say ‘I am not a statistic. Here in Macassar I will be an island of hope.’”

He added that the candles of hope project is an initiative by the University to work with community to stop the count.

Mr Quiton Adams of the Interchange Foundation, part of an initiative to further distribute the candle holders, said that the moment when people start to care, there is hope in that community.

Dr Jerome Slamat, Senior Director: Community Interaction at the SU said earlier: “SU’s HOPE Project focuses on finding ways in which science can find solutions for everyday problems communities struggle with. The Candle of Hope-initiative is a good example of this.”

According to Prof Wikus van Niekerk, Director of the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies, it seems as though the main cause of fires is candles that are put in empty cool drink bottles, saucers and other makeshift candle holders and then knocked over. Even most commercial candle holders cannot prevent a fire when a candle falls over.

“When the candle is knocked over the flame often comes in direct contact with the molten wax and causes the fire to spread fast,” Prof Van Niekerk explains. The safe candle holder, which is made from wire and steel plate, supports the candle and prevents the flame from making contact with the molten wax when it topples over.

Kers 2

Ms Johanna Swartz from Vlytige Vingers/Interchange, an organisation working in the Macassar community; Mr Ernie Arendse, a community worker of Macassar and Prof Wikus van Niekerk, Director of the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies at Stellenbosch University (photo: Anton Jordaan)

The Candle of Hope candle holder is the invention of Mr Conrad Stoffberg, a former student of the Paul Roos Gimnasium in Stellenbosch designed and created it for a Eskom Expo for Young Scientists when he was in grade 9. “At that stage there were numerous articles published in the media about shacks burning down due to candles falling over. I saw an opportunity to make a candle holder that could address this problem,” Mr Stoffberg, currently a candidate architect in Bloemfontein, explains. “It just goes to show, even if you look into something simple, the outcome could have a ripple effect beyond your wildest expectations.”

He thanked Prof Van Niekerk for believing in his project – “without his help the candle holder would have stayed just a school project from years ago.”

“Even if we only save one life with this initiative, it will be worth it,” says Prof Van Niekerk.

More on the candle holder:

  • It is safe!  When the candleholder is knocked over the candle remains in the spiral and hence the flame and pool of molten wax is well separated preventing a fire from starting and spreading.
  • It is inexpensive!  The materials used in the manufacture, steel wire and plate, are inexpensive and readily available.  No special tools or machines are used to manufacture the candle-holders.
  • It creates work and economic opportunities!  As the manufacture is by hand it can easily be done by unskilled labour with very little training and facilities.  Furthermore, budding entrepreneurs can start their own enterprises based on this project with two distinct markets, one in the communities of the townships and rural areas and the other in the more affluent community that frequents curio stalls.