New alarm system developed by South African youth comes to poor neighborhoods

New alarm system developed by South African youth comes to poor neighborhoods

The three co-founders of Jonga. Source: Jonga website

The three co-founders of Jonga. Source: Jonga website

This clever alarm system is tackling crime in the poorest neighborhoods of South Africa.

If you walk through the streets of Cape Town’s wealthy Southern Suburbs you will find yourself surrounded by high walls, electric fences and expensive alarm systems. Private security teams patrol the streets 24/7 and are on hand to address any issues in the district. Some homes in expensive neighborhoods even have private security teams on their property who patrol frequently.

These security measures might seem extreme to young people from other countries that are used to walking safely through the streets, even at night. Safety in homes and in public is vital to South Africans due to high levels of crime across the country. Hijacking, housebreaking, theft and assault are common in all regions, as are more violent crimes. Recent statistics indicate that 12 times more women are raped in South Africa than in the U.S., and there are on average 50 murders a day. Cape Town, for example, has been listed as the ninth most dangerous city in the world due to the high murder rate.

Residential theft remains the third-largest category of reported crimes in South Africa. Police statistics indicate that there were more than 250,000 residential break-ins in 2016. Residents seek to protect their families and valuables from violent robberies by investing in expensive security systems. Home security is, however, another way in which South Africa’s high inequality is clearly visible to all.

Source: Jonga website

While some South Africans can afford high-tech security measures, many poor individuals struggle to protect their homes and possessions. A walk through the streets of an informal settlement is very different from a walk through the well-protected neighborhoods of other areas. There are no high walls to protect the homes of the residents, no private security teams and no expensive alarm systems. Police struggle to maintain law and order, leaving residents unprotected from crime such as theft.  

“We don’t believe security should be a privilege of the few who can afford it, much like everything else in the country,” said Ntando Shezi, one of three University of Cape Town students who are fighting crime through social innovation. “We just want all people to be safe and make security accessible to everyone.”

The team, Kabir Prema, Ntando Shezi and Ntasko Mgiba, created Jonga in order to help residents in poor neighborhoods to protect their homes. Jonga, which means “We are watching,” is made up of a set of sensors which are linked to a phone application.

The sensors, placed around vulnerable entry points in the home, send a notification to the application whenever an intrusion is detected. Residents can arm or disarm their home alarm systems and notify the police through their phones if they need help.

The Jonga app is also linked to other Jonga systems in the neighborhood and allows the user to send a panic notification to other community members if necessary.

Conversely, the app will alert the user with a panic notification to any danger in a nearby home and ask them to investigate the situation.

The founders of Jonga believe that community awareness is key to reducing crime in poor areas. According to Shezi, a lack of existing community awareness allows criminals to target multiple homes in the same area without being caught. The app will immediately notify the community of an intrusion, encouraging local involvement in fighting crime and ensuring that households are vigilant during high-risk periods.

Jonga sensor and mobile application. Source: Jonga on Facebook

Jonga sensor and mobile application. Source: Jonga on Facebook

The Jonga team is currently working on the launch of a pilot project in Cape Town in conjunction with a security partner. After the pilot, they aim to expand the project to include other security partners and communities while also increasing the functionality of the units.

Jonga was created during the UCT Upstarts program, an innovative 12-week course helping students to become social entrepreneurs. Students generate ideas addressing a particular social issue and are given the opportunity to pitch their startups to potential investors and partners.

According to Shezi, “these platforms are crucial for young innovators as they provide critical resources to start their businesses. The platforms also provide mentors, pitching platforms and opportunities that are truly valuable to a potential startup founder.”

Shezi advises young people interested in social entrepreneurship to seek out mentors to help them to establish their projects, “An important thing for young people is to find mentors that can help direct them in their journey. I have realized that mentorship and coaching is quite critical when starting out and this usually ensures the success of the project.” He also suggests that it is important to test ideas in the market as soon as possible in order to get instant feedback and encouragement on the project.

Jonga has received several accolades including a joint win in the Student Social Venture Programme and the opportunity to present the solution as part of the Global Social Venture competition in London. The team learned a great deal from their experience and from the other social innovators at the competition. According to Shezi, the competition highlighted that Jonga is relevant to communities all over the world. He also learned that social entrepreneurship is a growing trend which is increasingly applicable to Africa.

For more information on this innovative project, please visit the Jonga website or Facebook page.

Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV

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