Green home’s her cup of tea

2011-12-03 11:44

The hi-tech Buthelezi family cheerfully admits they gobble up energy. But single mom Annah is getting switched on to energy savings. Cathy Dlodlo reports.

From her house on the hill with breathtaking views over Bloemfontein, Annah Buthelezi presides over her seriously hi-tech family.

Between this single mom and her son, Mondlane Phori (15), there are four TVs, four smartphones – including an iPhone – a desktop computer with a printer, a PlayStation, a music centre and several electric guitars.

No wonder this double-storey house in plush Pentagon Park, where houses go for up to R4?million, is always filled with teenagers.

Buthelezi, divorced since 2002, is a former Free State MEC for social welfare and is currently the deputy director-general of the provincial department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs.

The family’s electricity bill easily runs up to R1?500 a month – and that’s after Buthelezi took steps to reduce the family’s water and electricity consumption.

These steps, however, don’t cover her favourite energy sapping “sins” – endless cups of tea, a BMW Z4 and an air-conditioned bedroom.

Buthelezi confesses she boils the kettle – a household appliance with a surprisingly high energy consumption – at least six times a day.

She also warms up the milk for her many cups of tea in the microwave.

“I am very particular about my tea. The milk must be boiled,” she says.

According to her, the Z4 is her “selfish car”.

“About two years ago I decided it is high time to do something for myself instead of always doing things for my kids”, she explains.

To pick up the children from school, Buthelezi switches to the family car – a BMW X3 SUV.

Naturally, both her cars have air-conditioning systems, and Buthelezi calls the cooling unit she had installed in her bedroom a “necessity” in a Free State climate that can reach the mid-30s in summer. “I hate being hot!” she exclaims.

Buthelezi’s frank admissions about the family’s conspicuous consumption of electricity aside, she says she has become much more energy conscious about the way her household is run.

But trying to keep the family’s electricity consumption in check is no easy task, she says.

“I’m always fighting with Mondlane about his playroom and have to keep on nagging him to switch off lights and his gadgets when he is finished.”

The playroom is Mondlane’s own private, electricity burning space filled with his musical instruments, the PlayStation, music centre and laptop.

Buthelezi has made other significant consumption cuts with more success.

“We don’t wash clothes in the washing machine any more, except school uniforms and bed linen. Everything else is hand washed and dried outside”, she says.

The family’s tumble dryer is now only used in winter. Her two employees – a nanny and a domestic worker – are responsible for keeping the new rules.

Buthelezi has also changed the way their water is heated. She says: “The two geysers get switched off around 9am and only get switched on again at 6pm when we come home.”

The kitchen boasts a large fridge-freezer with an ice-making machine, but because Buthelezi now buys fresh vegetables and not a lot of meat at once, she doesn’t need a lot of freezer space. This has helped to cut the household’s consumption.

She has also changed the sprinkler system in the garden.

“It used to switch on automatically every morning, even when it rained. I changed it so that it only switches on every second day.”

She loves sitting in the garden, which features a mature orange tree, sipping her favourite tea. “The water fountain in the garden lures all sorts of interesting birds and my roses are beautiful this time of the year,” she says.

Other small but significant changes Buthelezi has made, and encourages her children to make too, is to use a glass of water to brush their teeth instead of letting the tap run.

Similarly, dirty dishes are no longer rinsed under a running tap.

Like most South African families who can afford it, one of the biggest household “carbon criminals” in the Buthelezi household is security systems, including electric gates. Now Buthelezi is considering installing a prepaid meter to make the family even more aware of how much electricity they use.

Buthelezi’s five-year-old daughter, Bontle Motaung, seems to be the only one in the household who is not impressed by the numerous gadgets.

Her favourite place is the miniature house in the garden, kitted out with furniture to fit. There is no running water or electricity in Bontle’s house.

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