The idea behind the project is that agri-workers would be able to purchase their own electricity from vending stations or via an electronic e-pay system. Photographer: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)
The idea behind the project is that agri-workers would be able to purchase their own electricity from vending stations or via an electronic e-pay system. Photographer: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Electrification project empowering Breede River farmworkers welcomed

By Mwangi Githahu Time of article published Aug 5, 2021

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Cape Town - Opposition parties in the provincial legislature welcomed that more than 1 000 farmworkers in the Hex River Valley in the Breede River Municipality area now have direct access to electricity, via the Agri-worker Electrification Project that was piloted by the Western Cape five years ago.

However, questions have been asked about the cost of the electricity and the speed of the projects implementation.

Freedom Front Plus MPL Peter Marais (FF Plus) said: “The project is well overdue. Farmworkers have for too long been considered as the poor relatives of city dwellers. They are the reason that the Western Cape can boast to be the food  basket of South Africa supplying 30%of our food.

“My only concern is the cost of electricity to farmworkers. Will they be given a minimum for free usage? If informal households receive free electricity then farmworkers are so much more deserving of it.”

The project is a collaborative effort between the provincial department of local government, Eskom, the Hex River Table Grape Association, the Agri-workers Association and the Breede Valley Municipality.

In a written response to a question about the project from ANC provincial agriculture spokesperson Pat Marran, Local Government MEC Anton Bredell said that the implementation of the project is still underway and has so far completed 1 156 connections.

He said the relatively small farm sizes and associated higher density of agri-worker households will result in a higher number of households benefiting from the investment in this project.

In a subsequent statement on the issue, Bredell said: “Financial challenges have made a speedier roll-out difficult but the goal remains to take this project across the province to all rural farmworkers.

Welcoming the project Marran said the programme puts the power in the hands of the farmworker.

“However, the programme has moved slowly and there is still quite a large number of people in this particular area of De Doorns that need to be connected.

“Nevertheless we also understand that Covid-19 has also impacted the programme and in fact brought the roll-out to a halt.”

Local government standing committee chairperson Derrick America said: “We support the provincial department's ambition to expand this project throughout the province. But owing to its role of coordination and facilitation, it isn't able to expedite the rollout without Eskom’s support as the main funder.

“Given that the national entity sits at approximately R400-billion in debt, we see further reasons in favour of energy diversification for all communities, including rural areas. The province is a reliable partner for energy security, but we can’t keep having Eskom fail us.

Committee member Andricus van der Westhuizen (DA) said: “We have received some reports in the past that cutting the electrical supply to farm workers houses has been used to penalise them and their families. This project will safeguard them from such actions.

“t will also ensure that electricity is used wisely and economically, as it electricity has become a scarce resource in South Africa. Prepaid systems have given consumers freedom to prioritise their expenses and to manage their budgets independently.”

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Cape Argus

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