Lepha­lale’s ve­neer of chrome and glass

CityPress - - Business - TINA WEAVIND busi­ness@city­press.co.za

Eight years af­ter ground was bro­ken, the once-sleepy town of Lepha­lale boasts a lux­ury ho­tel and two top-rated guest­houses, a gleam­ing shop­ping mall and sev­eral restau­rants that would be at home in Sand­ton City.

Gleam­ing glass and chrome shops and the hitech power sta­tion con­struc­tion are a sur­real blot in a world of pris­tine tin­der-dry bushveld.

But the ma­jor build­ing projects of the past few years have flung open their glass and chrome doors as the work­force at the mon­strous Medupi power sta­tion has halved.

The first unit of Medupi – which will be the fourth-big­gest coal-fired elec­tric­ity pro­ducer in the world – is ex­pected to be of­fi­cially opened to­day.

Marie Kruger, an es­tate agent at @Sold, said it was in­cred­i­ble: “Imag­ine Lepha­lale with a Woolies food store.” But she said while there was talk about fu­ture projects, in­clud­ing more power sta­tions in the area, “I don’t know if the mall will sur­vive when Medupi is fin­ished, although that will be at least 10 years.”

Last year, buses and ve­hi­cles fer­ry­ing work­ers to and from the site sat in traf­fic jams that de­layed the jour­ney of about 7km by an hour or more.

But as work­ers are in­creas­ingly be­ing let go and the traf­fic thins, the new dou­ble-lane tarred road seems to be too much, too late.

From a bridge near the power sta­tion, Unit 6 is clearly vis­i­ble as one of six blocks in the dis­tance dwarfed by two red-and-white- topped cool­ing tow­ers.

A small puff of smoke and a lit­tle red light are the only in­di­ca­tions that the unit, which limped to the fin­ish line in March more than four years late, is in op­er­a­tion.

De­spite the new ve­neer of so­phis­ti­ca­tion, the town is dom­i­nated by jaded con­trac­tors, bluecol­lar work­ers and a lo­cal pop­u­la­tion made up largely of old-school white farm­ers. This doesn’t make for suc­cess­ful racial in­te­gra­tion, par­tic­u­larly when the work day is over.

As­ton­ish­ingly, the town was buzzing on Tues­day night, with pubs, tav­erns, restau­rants and pros­ti­tutes do­ing a brisk trade.

But while there were no overt “white men only” signs out­side Mike’s Sports Bar, there was not one woman or a black per­son to be seen.

There wasn’t a white face at the tav­ern ei­ther, although the restau­rants boasted a healthy mix of black and white. There was no telling what was go­ing on along the dark roads near the parked trucks.

In Mike’s, a small ta­ble of cam­ou­flage-clad youths sat on bar stools around a cen­tral ta­ble smok­ing a hookah. Con­trac­tors and Eskom staff made up much of the rest of the clien­tele.

The only black man who en­tered stayed only as long as his Dry Le­mon drink lasted.

When the man or­dered his drink, the surly young bar­man had asked: “Who’s pay­ing for that?”

In Novem­ber, PayProp Rental In­dex noted that Lepha­lale was one of South Africa’s most ex­pen­sive towns, with an av­er­age rental of R19 986 for a residential prop­erty.

But lo­cal es­tate agents say that rentals have be­gun fall­ing off and, while there is a de­mand for houses, it is on a slower tra­jec­tory.

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