South Africa: African Development Bank Group Supports Skills Development in Eskom’s Medupi Power Plant

For many years, Sarina Malatji dreamed about helping out her community. She grew up in a community where few young people could afford an education. Today, she has not only educated herself, but she is also contributing towards the education of others.

William Morifi, the director of Excellent Perceptions, a fire equipment sales and maintenance company in Lephalale (Limpopo, South Africa) on 09.04.2019 ©AfDB/Olive Thiong’o

Malatji was raised in Limpopo Province where the scorching sun and bushveld disadvantage reign.

She worked for the state power utility Eskom until 2011, when she left to start her own cleaning business – Green Dot – which currently employs 115 people at the Medupi power plant, one of the largest energy projects undertaken in South Africa since 1994. Medupi thermal plant is located in Lephalale, Limpopo Province. It is the fourth largest coal-powered plant in the globe, with six boilers that will contribute 4,764 MW of power to the national grid, at optimal output. Construction of the plant commenced in 2007 and the plant is expected to be fully operational in 2020.

In 2013, Malatji heard about the Eskom Academy of Learning, dubbed the Medupi Learning Initiative, and decided to join because she wanted to advance her project management and business skills. The training is a leadership and skills development programme aimed at improving small and medium enterprises proficiencies, to be able to participate in large corporate business, such as Malatji’s Green Dot. From this training, her business has grown from a single entity to four entities employing 475 people; the latest of which is a boutique hotel in Lephalale in Limpopo, which is expected to open in June 2019.

Malatji says she comes from a humble background, which fuels her passion to serve her community. “Through the four businesses, my partner and I have managed to support student education at different levels. In 2018, we provided four laptops to students joining university, and our dream is to open a foundation for many such students at all levels of education,” she said.

Medupi Power Plant has provided a host of opportunities to local communities and migrant workers over the past decade. The skills developed, jobs created and surrounding business opportunities for men, women and youth has been phenomenal.

At the peak of the Medupi construction, 20,000 people were employed at the plant and its supporting activities. Limpopo was seen as an ideal location for the project because of its natural resources, but also because the province, one of South Africa’s poorest, stood to gain a great deal.

Now, as the construction works are finalized, the socio-economic difference is seen in the infrastructure developed, business acumen attained, and emerging opportunities.

Through the Medupi Leadership Initiative and the Eskom Contractors Academy, thousands have been given the skills to provide services to Medupi Power Plant and neighbouring businesses, as well as set up new businesses in the region.

The Medupi Leadership Initiative and the Eskom Contractors Academy are projects supported by the African Development Bank through its funding for skills development in line with the operational needs during the plant’s set up. They have launched the careers/businesses of many others like Malatji. Since they were launched, the Medupi leadership initiative has trained 16,602people on financial literacy, 2,000on drive your life, and 1,304 on modular employable skills, from the entire country. The contractor’s academy on the other hand has 116 local business owners.

Malatji, a 39-year-old mother of three, said she was grateful for the training that has provided her with skills, networks and mentors who have helped her grow her business. “I didn’t know what skills I needed before to grow my business, and I am glad the training has empowered me to improve my skills in the ventures I am undertaking.”

William Morifi was trained in the contractor’s academy, hoping to develop skills and grow his existing fire extinguishers business. Thirty-five-year-old Morifi – a disabled man from Limpopo Province – said his vision was to learn about outdoor advertising. He undertook the contractors training program. “I learnt how to go about my first and current venture in the fire extinguishers supply and maintenance business with big corporates such as Eskom. It taught me various skills, from acquisition of certificates, the correct bidding process to win tenders, and optimal business sustainability models. With this, I have managed to collaborate with Mesong Fire – a larger and more experience firm – to provide Eskom with some of its fire extinguishing equipment at the Medupi plant since 2016. Eskom is one of my main clients,” he says.

Morifi’s business is growing in leaps and bounds, with a staff of five and a female partner, as well as meeting the South African B-BBEE (Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act) requirements. Just as well, as the area continues to grow, so do the prospects for the fire extinguishing and signage opportunities he hopes to attain.

It has been a decade since Morifi completed the contractor’s academy programme, and the results are visible. He now has local clients from taxis to buses and other businesses in the region. The Bank’s support to the academy goes well beyond the power plant’s operation, but to envisioned gains such as the development of new industries and creation of employment opportunities that reduce poverty levels.

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