Tapping into the Vein in De Aar

Sometimes the solution isn't new tech, but rather a revitalization of the old

Working on a Renewable Energy project with some Investors I got to travel around the Northern Cape Region of South Africa. It is a very hot, arid and windy environment, perfect for PV Solar and Wind turbines!

In the few weeks, I got to spend in this region I visited most of the bigger and many of the small towns in the area. The one place, De Aar (The Vein) was especially interesting.

As literally the most central town in the country De Aar had, in its heyday, been the most important railway junction in South Africa.

Reduced spending on rail infrastructure and the increased reliance on road transport has seen this previously bustling railway junction wither to operating at only about 12% of its previous capacity.

This has had a devastating impact on the local economy and many families moved away in search of other employment and opportunities.

Many families decided to stay either for reasons of convention or because they had retired from their railway jobs and had made this town their home.

This is where an opportunity emerged.

In this town of just over 40 000 people was probably the highest proportion of skilled and experienced technical trade workers in the country. Old school Fitters and Turners, Electricians, Metal Workers all well qualified and experienced… just sitting at home or engaging in small time menial business ventures.

Sweetening the opportunity even further was the town’s fully equipped Technical Training Centre complete with metal, woodwork and electrical workshops all of which had been boarded up and was literally just gathering dust. When I was there the Training Centre was offering only 2 courses; Human Resource Management and Tourism. What?

Seeing the opportunity, we set about canvassing the local community, recruiting these technically skilled and experienced workers while also engaging with the authorities to get to (and dust off) the workshops.

Leveraging funds from the RE Investor, we set up a Trust that would ensure the local community benefits from the PV Solar initiative (just outside of town) and also allocated funding to getting the Technical Training Centre set up again in the town.

The Training Centre would become the hub for technical skills training in a region that has very high unemployment while also allowing the local skilled Tradesmen to share their skills and experience with others, empowering them to gain employment and even potentially do some work directly with the RE Company.

The Take-Away. New Tech is exciting and offers incredible opportunities. Sometimes however, you need to look at what is already in a community to see how you can best meet its immediate needs.

Just take a step back, connect the dots and you may find that it is possible to produce both a positive return and positive change.

Charl van Rensburg

I have explored all over the African continent and presently make my base in beautiful Cape Town, where my whitewater pursuits in rivers and ocean surf keep me challenged on a regular basis.

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