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A stitch in time

Submitted by South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC) on 12 April 2017
Hetta November leads the Suurbraak sewing group for the disabled.

A sewing workshop which supports disabled women in the rural Western Cape is an example of the kind of development project that could benefit from the revenues generated by a local wind farm, if Eskom gives the go-ahead for the power plant to be built.

When dressmaker Hetta November lost the full use of her left hand following a stroke, it did not stop the 56-year-old from doing what she knows best: sewing. Hetta heads up the Suurbraak CAPability Hand Sewn Project, through which she has trained up a group of 10 disabled women in the basics of sewing.

The group’s first consignment is to produce 450 quilted bags, made bespoke for a local conference organiser for an event this April. Through the process of getting these bags ready for their client, Hetta trained up the team of 10 women, all of whom have either a physical or intellectual disability, in the basics of preparing the fabric and stitching by hand. Once they had those mastered, she got them set up on the group’s four sewing machines. 

The Suurbraak-based group, about 25km from Swellendam in the Western Cape, was started by civil society organisation CAP (the Community Action Partnership), and is the kind of development project that could receive financial support from a local wind farm that is scheduled to be built out here in the Overberg. 

BioTherm Energy, an independent power company based in Johannesburg, has been given the go-ahead by the Department of Energy (DoE) to build the Excelsior Wind Farm as part of the state’s renewable energy programme. Since 2011, the DoE has approved the development of 96 mostly solar and wind power plants around the country. Half of these plants are already operational and selling power to the grid. But construction on the next 26 plants is on hold, following red-tape delays by Eskom.

Each energy firm has a contractual obligation to spend a percentage of the revenue it earns from selling power to the state, on social and enterprise development initiatives in communities living within a 50km radius of each plant. The investment commitment spans the 20-year life of the ‘power purchase agreements’ between the state and all the energy firms.   

Hetta explains that the group needs assistance to buy more equipment for the workshop, such as an overlocker and a cutting table. They would also benefit from having the capital to buy material in bulk, as they’ve been using donated fabric and offcuts until now. 

BioTherm’s Tulani Koom says that the company is eager to finalise which development initiatives in the area it will work with, but the process is on hold until Eskom finalises the contracts between itself and all the power companies in the DoE’s renewables initiative.

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