Qunu - Life will never be the same for the community of Qunu, near Mthatha, following today's opening of a ground-breaking energy centre that officials hope will alleviate poverty while addressing the energy needs of the community.
Government and fuel company Sasol launched the R8 million Integrated Energy Centre (IEC) at former President Nelson Mandela's birth place earlier today. The centre will provide products such as aluminum paraffin, diesel, petrol, gas burner stoves as well as renewable energy solar system.
Hundreds of people braved the blistering sun to witness the ceremony, which was attended by, among others, Energy Minister Dipuo Peters and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
The launch forms part of a R20 million investment by Sasol to establish five integrated energy centres in poverty nodes identified by government as part of its Integrated Sustainable Rural Development Plan. Other centres have been launched in Limpopo, Northern Cape and North West.
The Qunu centre is a co-operative owned by members of the community representing about 18 villages, which are set to benefit from the project. In addition to normal products offered at service stations, the
IECs also offer services such as a library, information centre and a community room, all available for the community to utilise.
At least 50 short-term employment opportunities were created while more than 10 permanent employment opportunities are foreseen.
In addition, the centre has a village vendor network of people, mainly women and youth, 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.
"What gives me even greater pleasure is that people from this village will no longer have to travel kilometers in order to buy two liters of paraffin or six candles," said the Energy Minister.
Qunu, which is situated about 30km from the town of Mthatha, 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 had to travel long distances to access gas and other forms of energy.
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. 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," Mandlana said.
She said the project will further target young people who have passed matric but can not afford to further their studies. "Our hope is for the project to grow and for it to be channeled to young people and, where possible, the disabled should also be accommodated so that we are seen to be fair."
Peters said the department has also embarked on a "special intervention" to try to accelerate the electrification programme in the area.
The vision of the ministry was that the establishment of the IEC cooperatives will 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 LTD chair, Maurice Radebe, said the company has a long term goal of funding such centres in all the country's nine provinces. "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," he said.