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Safety and security shouldn’t only be for the rich. This is a principle that underpins innovator and entrepreneur Thuli Mthethwa’s business.
Mthethwa is the founder of Memeza Community Safety, a home security system with a panic button geared towards underserved markets such as townships and vulnerable people, with a specific focus on women and children and schools.
Memeza was launched after Mthethwa’s sister suffered a violent attack in her family home in Tembisa, Johannesburg in 2012. Mthethwa grew increasingly frustrated while trying to find a reasonable alarm system to install in her sister’s home – she soon quit her job as a software developer to develop her own security solution.
“If my younger sister had something to protect her, a simple panic button, surely the neighbours could have been alerted and rushed in to help,” Mthethwa says in an interview with Forbes Africa.
Mthethwa says affordability is one of the main attractions of Memeza. While there are a number of private security companies in the country, she says many of them remain out of the reach of the people that need them the most.
“Vulnerable people cannot afford normal security company fees, and mostly, the larger security companies do not operate in low-income township areas,” she says.
In the same interview Mthethwa says there are no monthly installments and users pay a once-off amount of between R1900 and R 2500. “You only need airtime for the device to text police when it is required. As little as R5 airtime would be sufficient for a month and the system has a back-up battery when the power is off,” Mthethwa says.
How it works
Memeza is a public alarm system which means it connects households directly to the nearest police station and community policing sector.
The system also allows integration with a private security company and can be configured to as many people as possible, sending text messages to their cellphones.
All incidents and response times are captured “on an intelligent back-end management system, which means that reporting on crime can be done in real time,” Mthethwa says.
Memeza now has a national footprint, and according to Mthethwa, the alarm systems have made a positive impact on the communities where they have been distributed.
In Mashamplani for example, an informal settlement in Diepsloot, Mthethwa says 2000 personal alarm systems were distributed in the area in 2016 and the area has seen a drop in crime, including a 8.6% drop in murder, an 11.3% drop in total sexual offences, and a 16.2% drop in rape.
Mthethwa also works with community policing forums distributing thousands of personalized panic buttons to women and girls in poor communities for free.
Mthethwa talks us through Memeza’s journey from a passion to now changing lives.
Affordability a challenge, until now
There have been many attempts to provide security solutions to low income areas over the years, but affordability stays a challenge.
Working with the Centre for Public Service Innovation, The Innovation Hub and SAPS therefore [we] had to ensure that we come up with innovative, but affordable technology that could assist SAPS, Community Policing Forums and Communities (current existing public custodians of safety) to work better to fight crime.
The Memeza project is only a success because of the participation and dedication of SAPS, government and corporate partners, working together to make South Africa a safer place.
We are an answer to an urgent challenge
Memeza is a social enterprise, born out of normal South African citizens wanting to change the face of crime in our country. Although as a business we have to be sustainable, the social impact is the key driver.
Immediacy through tech
The Memeza Community Policing Alarm pro-activates SAPS and Community Policing Forums so that response times and arrest rates are drastically improved.
SAPS sector vehicles are notified via SMS when a crime happens, and the SMS notification includes the victim’s name, address, contact details and also informs SAPS of the type of emergency or crime happening i.e police, medical or fire panic. At the same time communities, family and friends are also empowered to respond as they are also immediately notified in the time of crisis.
From victim to victor
As a victim of crime, being able to change other people’s lives through Memeza has changed me from a victim to a victor. It has made me realize, if communities stand together and work towards a common goal, we can live in a safe South Africa.
Going into the rest of Africa
Our hope is to expand into African countries and the rest of the world. We believe that if the solution can make a difference in South Africa, it can benefit the whole world.
Expansion however always takes investment, and as an SME we hope that 2018 will see the relevant investors come on board to assist us in taking Memeza to the next level.
The recognition (Memeza was recognised by The Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI) for their innovation and won the SMME award at the South African Premier Business Awards) means we have accomplished the task of a successful pilot of a public service delivery improvement tool, and that the tool is ready for national deployment.
The recognition from the Premier Awards means that we are on the right path and the innovation is making the change needed in our country, it opens up opportunities for investors to see beyond the social aspect into the business itself, and the manufacturing of the units and capacity to supply all of South Africa and export.