Gallery: Township life next to an Eskom power station

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Workers from nearby coal mines and power plants arrive home to Marapong township in Lephalale, Limpopo province. July 2014

Workers from nearby coal mines and power plants arrive home to Marapong township in Lephalale, Limpopo province. July 2014

LEPHALALE - Five years after the Waterberg coal industry formally began production in 1981, the township of Marapong was founded in 1986. Eskom and Iscor both wanted to provide affordable, convenient accommodation for their non-white workers.

At the time they were traveling up to 75 kilometers from nearby villages to reach work every day.

Workers arrive home in the early evening by bus and taxi from Matimba and the local Exxaro Grootgeluk Coal Expansion Project.

The construction of Eskom’s new Medupi Power Station has seen an influx of workers during the construction phase of the project, which began in 2007.

According to Lephalale municipality officials, the demand for power and the availability of coal in the area provide major potential for more development in the future.

“The existing Matimba Power Station, Medupi, and the other three power stations that can reasonably be expected, will collectively consume 80 million tons of coal per year."

"With an opencast mining resource of 12.5 billion tons in the Waterberg Coalfield, these power stations can be sustained for 156 years,” notes the most recent Lephalale Municipality Integrated Development Report for 2013 – 2016.

A local drama group led by 26-year-old Marapong resident Bafedile Masasa (left) rehearses a dance sequence from their play, “Lepharadise.” The group meet every night to practice in a small RDP house a few blocks away from Matimba Power Station.

The group has high ambitions to reach global fame by telling local stories. Their play about Lephalale deals with drug addiction and preaches an inspiring message.

The introductory narration of the play calls describes Lephalale as a place where dreams can come true, “This is the land of milk and honey. This is indeed paradise.”

Statistics from the 2011 Census show that the population of Lephalale has increased by 35.8% from 2001 to 2011. The current documented population is 111,578.

In the Integrated Development Report, Lephalale municipality officials note that new construction projects which are the cause of the influx have made it difficult for them to keep up with infrastructure development.

“The construction of Medupi power station which started in 2007 has already put tremendous pressure on the Municipality for the provision of more potable water, electricity and expansion of waste water treatment systems. The influx of people from surrounding areas and outside the Municipality has led to growth in informal settlements.”

Statistics in the report show:

  • More than 50% of households in the municipality are without hygienic toilets.
  • Only 40% of the households in Lephalale Municipality have access to acceptable refuse removal service levels.

The township of Marapong is situated in one of three air quality priority areas in the country. The Waterberg-Bojanala district was highlighted for its already poor air quality due to emissions from the industrial and mining operations in the area.

Betty Kagaeng (pictured above), an unemployed mother of two rubs cream on her three-year-old son Koki’s legs to soothe his chronic eczema, a condition he was born with.

He spends most days indoors because of his respiratory health illness, which he was diagnosed with at three months old.

Matimba power is station is one of 16 power stations that will not comply with the minimum emission standards stipulated in the National Environmental Management Air Quality Act (2005).

The power station will not comply in terms of its emissions of particulate matter (coal ash), sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

These two security guards were relocated from Giyani in northern Limpopo to Lephalale by their company.

They are protecting an open piece of land behind Matimba Power Station which is owned by the municipality who don’t want any more informal shacks to be built on it.

Water is a scarce resource for people living in the Waterberg. This is true as well for industrial operations such as mining and producing energy.

Francinah Thubakgalep pours herself a glass of water from the communal tap in her yard that is shared by two households.

According to the Water Service Information Framework of 2007, in Marapong, 15% of households make use of community standpipes.

More than 50% of households have a tap in the yard, and one-third of households have access to water inside their dwelling.

Municipality officials in Lephalale have stressed the need to develop and grow the second economy in the town and it makes an important contribution to the livelihoods of the poor.

According to the municipality’s Integrated Development Report, “The second economy is characterised by high unemployment and lack of skills mainly amongst the youth, women, and people with disability.”

They acknowledge that the area’s economic growth potential has the capacity of absorbing the second economy population.