Residents of Mutale village no longer have to travel 30 kilometres to Thohoyandou in Limpopo to buy paraffin, fill up their gas stoves or fill up their cars.
In 2005, an Integrated Energy Centre (IeC) was established in the area to meet their energy needs. IeCs serve as one-stop energy shops for communities that do not have access to energy related goods. Not only does the centre supply clean and reliable energy, it is a project for the people, run by the people.
Members of the community have formed a registered community cooperative to run the centre. The Mutale Integrated Energy Cooperative is made up of 102 members and has 15 people employed in its convenience store, bank facilities, internet café and petrol station.
The centre is one of the National Department of Energy’s projects to provide energy solutions to rural areas in partnership with municipalities, development agencies and oil companies.
The Mutale IeC was set up in a partnership involving petrol company Sasol, the Department of Energy and the Limpopo Economic Development Agency (Leda), the Department of Trade and Industry and the Vhembe Municipality.
At the end of the financial year, a certain percentage of the profits from the IeC is ploughed back into the community’s trust fund.
Sipho Gwatuli is happy to be employed as a petrol attendant at the IeC. “After I completed my matric I was unemployed for two years. I now have an income and life is better.”
A member of the cooperative, Victor Maluleke was appointed site manager responsible for the day-to-day services of the centre.
He said the centre initially provided only energy products, but it has since expanded to have an Internet café, banking services and a convenience store.
“We wanted to expand and approached Leda for assistance in opening an Internet café and it is doing very well.”
The IeC has petrol tanks that have a capacity of carrying 44000 litres of petrol and 9000 litres of diesel.
“The tanks are filled up on a weekly basis by Sasol and this shows that the business is doing well and has potential to grow even further because of the high demand.”
Maluleke said there were plans to increase the capacity of petrol tanks to 69 000 litres and diesel tanks to 23 000 litres to meet the current high demand.
Thabang Malefu, Project Manager responsible for programmes and projects at the Department of Energy said that the Mutale IeC is one of the leading centres in the country.
“It was able to sustain itself from inception. People in the area no longer need to take a taxi to the nearest town to access services.”
He said when an IeC is opened in an area, there is usually a staff compliment of eight people, but the Mutale IeC was able to employ a further seven people, which shows that it’s making a good contribution to the community.
To date, nine IeCs have been built in the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, KwaZulu- Natal, Limpopo and the North West Province. Malefu said the department is currently constructing two IeCs in QwaQwa in the Free State and Qamatha in the Eastern Cape.
Meanwhile, the people of Mutale plan to develop their centre into a shopping mall and bring services to more people.