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later be­cause Trea­sury gives its as­sur­ances.”

Some­times his com­pany has to wait for sev­eral months to be paid for wiring up all the houses, but he charges in­ter­est on out­stand­ing bal­ances. That en­sures his busi­ness stays sol­vent, com­mu­ni­ties get their power faster and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties meet their ser­vice-pro­vi­sion obli­ga­tions.

The Greater Tu­batse Lo­cal Mu­nic­i­pal­ity in Lim­popo is rich in plat­inum and has 18 mines op­er­at­ing within its bor­ders, but about a quar­ter of its house­holds still lack power. The lo­cal au­thor­ity was con­nect­ing 2 500 homes a year, but that in­creased dra­mat­i­cally af­ter Mpha­phuli Con­sult­ing helped it to win ap­proval from the depart­ment and Trea­sury to draw on fu­ture grants.

“Govern­ment has called for job cre­ation, elec­tri­fi­ca­tion and ser­vice de­liv­ery to be taken se­ri­ously, so we were able to put up an ar­gu­ment that this would as­sist govern­ment,” says Mpha­phuli. He uses five sub­con­tract­ing com­pa­nies to carry out the work and pays about 400 hole-dig­ging labour­ers di­rectly.

Elec­tri­fi­ca­tion costs an av­er­age of R16 000 per home, and up to R20 000 to reach each house in re­mote ru­ral ar­eas. Con­nect­ing th­ese houses to the na­tional grid won’t put any no­tice­able ex­tra strain on Eskom’s sup­ply, but it will change the lives of the home­own­ers and their chil­dren. Since Eskom isn’t rolling out the cables to un­con­nected homes it­self, the work falls to the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and the con­trac­tors they hire.

The two big ad­van­tages Mpha­phuli Con­sult­ing has are its knowl­edge of how to present a com­pelling bud­get sub­mis­sion to Trea­sury on be­half of a mu­nic­i­pal­ity, and the where­withal to sus­tain it­self un­til the state has paid for its ser­vices.

The lat­ter is a huge bar­rier to en­try that pre­vents other en­trepreneurs from of­fer­ing their ser­vices in the same way, be­cause they need deep pock­ets to bide their time un­til the cash comes in.

When the newly con­nected houses are fi­nally given ac­cess to the grid, it’s a won­der­ful mo­ment each time, says Mpha­phuli.

“You should see the faces of the peo­ple when they switch on the elec­tric­ity for the first time – yet it’s some­thing we take for granted our­selves,” he says.

In re­al­ity, though, he doesn’t take elec­tri­fi­ca­tion for granted, be­cause he grew up in Tshim­bupfe vil­lage in Lim­popo, long be­fore elec­tric­ity ar­rived. He first ex­pe­ri­enced it in 1984 when he moved to a town to at­tend school.

Later, he won a schol­ar­ship from An­glo Amer­i­can and be­came one of the first black en­gi­neers to grad­u­ate from Wits Univer­sity.

He’s now us­ing that hard-won education to im­prove the lives of thou­sands of oth­ers from a back­ground sim­i­lar to his own.


An elec­tri­cian climbs a power sup­ply pole in one of SA’s ru­ral ar­eas. An in­no­va­tive pro­ject led by Mpha­phuli Con­sult­ing is help­ing to speed up the rate at which homes are be­ing con­nected to the grid

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