Under construction: Limpopo’s new city

2012-11-24 18:38

Getting around the centre of Lephalale is a nightmare.

The town is a large construction site with cranes, trucks, cement mixers, bulldozers, excavators and other heavy equipment roaring through its streets.

Roads are being widened, and construction on a private clinic and a R170 million shopping centre is well under way.

This, together with massive housing development, is part of the plan to transform Lephalale into what is tipped to be South Africa’s first city built after apartheid.

Municipal manager Bob Naidoo says that before May 2007, when Eskom began building the Medupi Power Station there, Lephalale was just another sleepy town characterised by poverty, unemployment and crumbling infrastructure.

Naidoo said: “It is this power station, worth over R150 billion, that is breathing new life into this town. At any given moment, I’m told there are more than 15 000 people working at the power station. It’s local people benefiting.”

Tumisho Khunou, a construction worker at the mall due to open this month, 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, estimated at as much as 50 billion tons, have been found in the area.

Naidoo said Lephalale is ­positioning itself as the country’s ­energy hub, as the town is already home to Matimba Power Station.

Recently, Naidoo said, there have been about six mining ­companies either prospecting for coal or setting up mining operations.

Not only is mining firm Exxaro, which has a contract to supply coal to Medupi, expanding its Grootgeluk mine to produce 140 000 tons of coal a year, it is also building a new coal mine, called Thabametsi, which will produce about 16 million tons of coal a year.

Exxaro is also conducting a ­feasibility study to produce a further 750 000 tons of coking coal. And Sasol is conducting a feasibility study for a coal-to-liquid-gas plant. According to Naidoo, apart from Medupi, Lephalale is likely to be the site of three more coal-fired power stations.

He said: “This is the background against which we are growing this town. For us to make sure we meet (these) demands, we have 5, 10, 15 and 20 year plans.”

The first is a R316 million bulk infrastructure project, to be finished by next year, including bulk water and sewer pipelines, two water reservoirs and two new electricity substations.

The town, along with the provincial and national departments of human settlements, has also bought land to build 5 000 houses.

Naidoo said: “Eventually we will build over 30 000 houses over 20 years for middle to low-income people.

“Remember, all these people who will come to work here will need accommodation and other facilities such as schools, clinics and shopping centres”.

The second phase will see the municipality spend about R400 million upgrading roads.

The town, according to Naidoo, will soon surpass Thohoyandou, Giyani, Tzaneen and Makhado to become Limpopo’s second-biggest city after Polokwane.

He added that in 20 years it will have become a fully fledged city, “maybe even bigger than Polokwane”.

Naidoo said: “Over the next 15 years, we will spend over R7 billion in transforming this town and the population is expected to grow . . . in no time.”

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