Awards 1993 Williamson Tea Award for Social Progress

Williamson Tea Award for Social Progress

Palabora Mining Co., South Africa

Returned exiles, the unemployed and villagers keen to bring electricity or better plumbing to their communities meet at the Reef Training Centre opened in 1990 by the Palabora Foundation to provide the skills which many South Africans need (the Foundation was set up in 1987 by the Palabora Mining Company Ltd, an RTZ subsidiary).

About 500 men and women have graduated from the centre, and some have stayed on to help there. Around half have found formal-sector jobs and a third have set up their own businesses. A business course is being introduced.

The centre, 30 miles from Johannesburg, is on a former game farm which has become the Ndabushe Wildlife Sanctuary. The Foundation wanted somewhere accessible from Rand townships but free of their turmoil. Squatters living on the farm were recruited to work for the centre. Some now hold responsible positions there and in the sanctuary.

Godfrey Coetzee, a director, says the Foundation decided to teach building because of South Africa's housing problem, and the motor trade because it is an African success story. A backyard industry has sprung up to repair the black taxis which compete with public transport.

John Addis, a consultant, devised the training courses. These are broken down into modules which students can take at their own pace. A woman, Priscilla Mpala, outpaced the men by completing in seven weeks a course normally needing nine. Instruction is practical: plumbers install pipes-they don't just learn about them. The centre's certificates are recognised by building employers. A visitor remarks on how well the centre is equipped.

The ten instructors are not only well qualified, "They are people who go an extra mile for our trainees," says Hugh Rix of the Foundation. Teddy Daka, a returned exile, turned down three other job offers because he wanted to help underprivileged people. He is the centre's remedial teacher. Lionel Clarke gave up a job as general foreman with a major company to become senior training officer with the building programme. He says he was appalled by poor standards of skill in his field.

Apart from the unemployed, the centre has trained exiles sponsored by the African National Congress, youngsters from children's shelters, and unskilled labourers losing their jobs in the recession and offered retraining by their employers. Most travel to the centre but some live there during their courses. One who used to turn up in a beaten-up old vehicle returned later in a new Fiat. He is running his own business and employing other former students.

Money for training the unemployed is a continuing battle, says Hugh Rix. The centre cost about 1.5 million to create and costs around 600,000 a year to run. The Foundation, since it was set up, has received 8 million from the Palabora copper-mining company. But it runs many projects: nursery schools for 800 children, training of librarians and maths and science teachers, adult education.

Companies and municipalities which send employees to the Reef centre pay a higher fee, which helps subsidise unemployed students. The ANC and welfare organisations sponsoring students also help. Several organisations offer bursaries.

Cuan Elgin, once a professional hunter, is environmental manager responsible for the buildings and for establishing the wildlife sanctuary and a field study centre financed by Nestle which has dormitories for 48 schoolchildren. Hundreds of children come from township schools. So do scout groups (to a camp), wildlife organisations, and anglers who fish in the many dams.

The sanctuary is home to hippo, impala, kudu and wildebeest, and 150 species of birds have been seen there. Local people are allowed to cut thatch and gather firewood in the sanctuary and they can buy venison, pork, fish, chicken and vegetables cheaply.

South Africa Resources