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.
ON THE UP
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