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Exxaro: powering communities with purpose

Exxaro is powering forward with R20-billion worth of self-financed community power projects, but there’s more at play for the company than just providing power and infrastructure to the people. 

Johan Meyer is a man on a mission, as his department has been bankrolled with R20-billion of finance from the Exxaro board to roll out vital power utility projects and ancillary structures for communities in Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

Meyer is Exxaro’s Executive Head of Projects and Technology, and he’s driving the company’s vision of making a difference in each community, rather than just building and moving on to the next project. Their mission is to create infrastructure that benefits the community in the long term, and that starts with empowering and protecting each individual.

“On the Belfast Mine project, for example, we had 4.7-million man hours during construction… but nobody got hurt! Not one injury on that site since we started the project and until we delivered it, so it can be done!” says Meyer.

This impressive safety record was achieved because Meyer and his team had ensured that everyone working on the site understood their role not just in building the mine, but rather they saw the picture of how they were working towards the goals of South Africa as a nation.

“I am passionate about making sure that people understand their purpose because then they know the contribution they can make,” adds Meyer. “One of the first things people need to find in their work is purpose, why are we doing this, so it was important to encourage them to think about how their work would make a contribution to a better South Africa.”

With the Matla Power Station, Meyer stressed that the work being done to extract the coal would help to power the area until 2040. 

“When people think about their work in those terms it really helps to establish for themselves their purpose for being part of a project,” said Meyer. “My role as the executive overseeing the whole project is to make sure that they understand the purpose of each of the projects because if you involve people – and if they understand – then they know how to contribute.”

The Exxaro board has made substantial investments in terms of empowering local communities, with R20-billion being made available from a strategic point of view to implement various projects across the group. Around R10-billion was made available for Grootegeluk in the Waterberg region, along with R10-billion being directed towards areas in Mpumalanga. In Mpumalanga, the R3.3-billion Belfast Mine project (pictured) was given the green light in November 2017 and the team delivered the project on 12 September 2019… a staggering six months ahead of schedule. “It’s great to see that in Africa we can still deliver projects under budget and ahead of time,” said Meyer. “We have received the announcement that the Matla expansion project was approved by Eskom, which is incredibly exciting news.”

The Matla expansion project is designed to bring the coal into the power station from below on conveyor belt, and the R3.5-billion project is already in execution. Completed in 2018 was the joint R1.9-billion project with Mafube in Mpumalanga, while across in Limpopo the Grootegeluk Plant 6 (GG6) expansion project near Lephalale was granted R4.8-billion in funds.

Also in development are the Semisoft Coking Coal Load Out Station (SSCC LOS) and the D8 Load Out Station (D8 LOS), which were commissioned in order to join the dots between producing the product and getting it to the harbour. Also in the Waterberg is the R3-billion Tabametsi Project, although that has yet to kick off because of all the dynamics regarding the new IRP.

“Hands are needed to build stuff, so in the R20-billion expansion project we have utilised 7 000 people and in that way we are partnering with those who have the right skills to build a building like this or a rapid load-out station or an underground mine. You have to partner with the right skills,” adds Meyer.

Exxaro has an internal rule that they need to employ 70% of local communities on each build, but there’s another essential rule on these projects – the need to pay back the money.

“Our purpose is not to spend all R20-billion in the budget, and most of the projects have been completed under budget. This is important because the lower the capital investment, the less you have to pay back in the long run, so it is strategically important that we don’t spend all of our budget,” says Meyer. “Spend what you need to create the value required – it’s a simple business equation that you need to run with. Our CEO Mxolisi Mgojo knows exactly what he wants and needs in order to drive the strategy of the business, and I know what my role is in the broader strategic environment in supporting the CEO. My mandate is to deliver the project on time and on schedule and, hopefully, to give back some money,” added Meyer.

At the heart of all these projects are thousands of South Africans who have contributed to creating these vital links in the energy chain, and it’s these people that make the real difference.

“Empowering communities is real in our space as 7 000 people have helped us in building these projects. Partnerships and bringing people on board – and building ‘stuff’ – is what excites me,” adds Meyer .


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