Energy centres for rural development

17 January 2011

Petrochemicals firm Sasol and the South African government have launched a R8-million Integrated Energy Centre (IEC) in a bid to alleviate poverty while addressing community energy needs in the rural Eastern Cape town of Qunu.

The launch forms part of a R20-million investment by Sasol to establish five integrated energy centres in poor areas identified by the government as part of its Integrated Sustainable Rural Development Plan.

Other centres have been launched in the Limpopo, Northern Cape and North West provinces.

Qunu, which is situated about 30km from Mthatha, is best known for being the village where former president Nelson Mandela grew up and went to school.

It is one of the areas in the Eastern Cape where electricity has not reached every one – locals still rely on traditional forms of energy such as paraffin and wood and have to travel long distances to access gas and other forms of energy.

The Qunu Integrated Energy Centre, a co-operative owned by members of the community representing about 18 villages, will provide products such as paraffin, diesel, petrol, gas and gas burner stoves in the community. At least 50 short-term employment opportunities have been created, while more than 10 permanent employment opportunities are foreseen.

“What gives me even greater pleasure is that people from this village will no longer have to travel kilometres in order to buy two litres of paraffin or six candles,” Energy Minister Dipuo Peters said at the launch of the centre last week.

In addition to normal products offered at service stations, the centre also offers services such as a library, information centre and a community room, all available for community use.

Village vendor network

The Integrated Energy Centre also has a village vendor network of people, mainly women and youngsters, who serve as delivery points within the communities. People can purchase energy products from these vendors to reduce travelling costs.

The vendors are trained on how to use the energy sources safely and they, in turn, are expected to train local people.

Forty-two-year-old Nolusapho Mandlana has been involved in the project since it was first mooted in February last year and says it has changed her life. “For us, it has always been a struggle for our people to access the most basic energy products, so we are very happy to finally see the project taking shape because it will assist a lot,” Mandlana said.

“We are planning to train as many people as possible, so that we can reach our goal of ensuring that each village has a vendor by next year.”

She said the project would target young people who have passed matric but could not afford to further their studies. “Our hope is for the project to grow and for it to be channelled to young people and, where possible, the disabled should also be accommodated so that we are seen to be fair.”

Peters said the department had also embarked on a “special intervention” to try to accelerate the electrification programme in the area, adding that the department believed the establishment of the IEC cooperatives would contribute towards job creation and community development.

“The roll out of the IEC programme is one of the vehicles that the department has embarked upon to contribute to rural development and the fight against energy poverty,” she said.

Sasol Oil chairman Maurice Radebe said the company’s long-term goal was to fund such centres in all nine provinces of South Africa.

“Our plan is to penetrate every area that has been identified to be in need of this service and we are hoping the success we have seen in other existing centres will serve as encouragement to us and our partners,” Radebe said.

Source: BuaNews