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A carpenter by trade

By South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC) on 6 February 2017
Self-taught carpenter Marco ‘Bokkie’ Maarman fitted this low-cost house with a ceiling, as part of the Hopefield Home Improvement Project. After two years of working as an employee on the project, this house was his first job as an independent contractor.

The West Coast town of Hopefield needs social services, improved schooling, and enterprise development. As part of its social responsibility commitments, a nearby wind farm is directing some of its revenue to plugging the holes in the local education system. By Leonie Joubert.

If Marco ‘Bokkie’ Maarman could have, he’d have studied to become a marine biologist. He’s always loved fish, he says; always been fascinated by ‘life under the sea’. He floats a flat hand in front of his face, mimicking a rolling ocean surface. 

‘It must have been my father’s influence,’ the 37-year-old smiles.  

For years, his father worked the galley on fishing boats that headed out into the chilly Atlantic, typically in search of anchovy, or snoek, or hake, and cooked for the crew. He’d be gone for one, two, sometimes three months at a time, between short spells back home in the West Coast town of Hopefield, about 130km north of Cape Town. He remembers many forlorn Christmases when his father wasn’t home. 

Now, his father is elderly and retired, and the two live together in a small state-built house on the outskirts of town, with one of his sisters and a nephew. 

Maarman went to junior school here in Hopefield, and then travelled to nearby Vredenburg about 34 km away to finish high school. But like many school leavers from his neighbourhood, there wasn’t much money to study further. And so, either through luck or happenstance, he became a tradesman: first, working as a welder on the fishing boats down on the coast; then he learned carpentry under his brother’s tutelage. 

This bottleneck in the town’s schooling system is one of the needs that a local development initiative is trying to free up, and it’s linked to the Hopefield Wind Farm which, since December 2014, has had 37 turbines turning their blades in the face of the onshore wind, and feeding power into the national grid. 

Green energy, local development  

In 2011, the South African Department of Energy (DoE) started a process of commissioning private energy firms to build and run a series of 96 renewable energy plants across the country, mostly wind and solar plants, but also some biomass, landfill, and small hydro plants. 

As part of each company’s agreement with the state, a percentage of the revenue generated from selling electricity to the national utility, Eskom, must go towards social and enterprise development in communities within 50km of each plant. 

The Hopefield Wind Farm, owned by Cape Town-based Umoya Energy and run by Danish turbine manufacturer Vestas, was one of the first plants to be built as part of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) programme. When Umoya’s development team met with communities in Hopefield, it found that in addition to support for basic services - such as health and community social services - the town’s education system needed an injection of aid. 

‘There’s only one primary school and one high school here in town,’ says Umoya Energy’s Elton Gordon, senior project manager in its community operations department. Many pupils still travel to Vredenburg to attend high school, just as Maarman did twenty years ago.

When Umoya asked the local schools what support they needed, they found that Hopefield Primary School’s fourth grade class was overcrowded. So Umoya offered to fund the cost of an extra Grade 4 teacher, along with a teaching assistant.   

The next initiative is a bursary scheme for school leavers - those who, like Maarman, might want to study at a tertiary level, but don’t have the funds.

‘We have four people on bursaries at the moment,’ says Gordon. ‘They’re studying in the areas of engineering, food science, and education.’ 

Then there’s the enterprise development side of things. One element of a home improvement project here in town, run by Umoya Energy, is to train up local artisans - electricians, plumbers, and carpenters - to help with retrofitting low-cost houses with ceilings, solar water heaters, additional electrical points, and low-energy lightbulbs. Maarman was one of the recruits for this programme, and after two years of working as an employee on the project, is now being trained up to operate as a contractor. Over the next three years, with the help of a mentor, he’ll learn the basics of running a business: managing finances, ordering from suppliers, hiring and paying staff, and invoicing for work done. 

Maarman laughs when he remembers his first attempts at carpentry as a teenager. 

‘I didn’t really like woodwork at school,’ he says. He remembers not being that good with his hands. But years of learning at his brother’s side changed that. And now he’s starting a whole new chapter, contracting to the firm that is training him to be his own boss.

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  • A percentage of revenue generated by the Hopefield Wind Farm, which has been selling electricity to the national grid since December 2014, must go to enterprise and social development initiatives in the nearby town.
  • Hopefield carpenter and newly minted contractor ‘Bokkie’ Maarman (37) and Umoya’s Hopefield office administrator Amber Adams (23), sit in the Hopefield Primary School reception, where Umoya funds a Grade 4 teacher and assistant. Both Maarman and Adams are graduates of this small West Coast primary school.
  • Anya Mostert and her fellow fourth graders at Hopefield Primary School. The teacher and teaching assistant posts for this class are funded by Umoya Energy.
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