SA at work: Powering up SA’s newest city

2014-01-19 14:00

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On completion, the Medupi power station will be the largest dry-cooled, coal-fired power station in the world. It will produce enough power to light up a million houses and significantly ease SA’s insecure electricity supply. Around it the town of Lephalale continues to grow into a city. Poloko Tau reports.

At first sight, Lephalale looks like a farming town, but this is no ordinary dorpie in Limpopo.

There may not be any fancy hotels (yet) and the tar on the streets might look a little uneven, but Lephalale is rapidly growing into what is tipped to be South Africa’s first post-apartheid city.

It is booming. Property developments – townhouse complexes, modern houses and flats – and shopping centres are abundant.

All this development is happening because Lephalale, which is home to Eskom’s Matimba power station, is a stone’s throw from Medupi.

The power station, named for a Sepedi word that means “rain that soaks parched lands”, has had its fair share of controversy, but it is bringing life to this far-flung place.

When Medupi is complete, it will have the power to electrify 1 million homes.

With about 15 000 people working on construction at Medupi and many more working at Matimba and in the surrounding coal mines, Lephalale is home to hordes of migrant workers.

Businesses are also milking it as the boom continues apace. From restaurants to accommodation, adverts entice the main clientele: contractors.

Accommodation doesn’t come cheap. You can expect to pay R7?000 for a two-bedroom townhouse, but with specialist engineers and the like in town, landlords are cashing in.

Prosperity has also come to the township of Marapong, which is a blend of shacks and RDP houses, and is home to the bulk of the workers.

Everywhere, shacks overflow into the streets – as do small tin tuck shops, hair salons, shisa nyama butcheries and taverns, and other businesses.

Little more than a year ago, when City Press visited, the town was a giant construction site, with cranes, trucks, cement mixers and excavators roaring through its streets.

Municipal manager at the time, Bob Naidoo, said that before May 2007, when Eskom began building the Medupi power station, Lephalale was characterised by poverty, unemployment and crumbling infrastructure.

Naidoo said: “It is this power station, worth more than R150?billion, that is breathing new life into this town?...?Its local people are benefiting.”

Tumisho Khunou, a construction worker, said: “Before I worked here, I was unemployed.

When I finish here, I’ve got another job waiting for me in one of the mines just outside town. I’m

so grateful for these opportunities. It is a terrible thing not being able to work and support your family.”

Massive coal deposits have been found in the area and this is the foundation on which this new town is being built.

Phase 1 of the R316?million bulk infrastructure project is complete and includes water and sewer pipelines, two water reservoirs and two new power substations.

Over the next two decades, it is expected that 30?000 houses will be built.

In its entirety, state-owned utility Eskom is spending at least R340?billion between 2005 and 2018 on its new projects, making it the largest infrastructure development investment programme South Africa has so far undertaken.

The other major project is Kusile, which is being built in Mpumalanga.

Mike Rossouw, the chairperson of the Energy Intensive User Group, believes that when the Kusile and Medupi units start to come on stream, there will be a surplus of electricity until about 2025.

He predicts that rapid economic growth of more than 6%a year must occur for demand to exceed this. – Additional reporting Sipho Masondo and Yolandi Groenewald

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