NGO Profile: Palabora Foundation

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Wednesday, 23 January, 2008 - 08:31

From Mining to Development

Quite often mining companies come under severe criticism by environmental and community groups for the negative impact that mines have on the surrounding communities. In 1986, the Palabora Mining Company (Palabora) responded to this scrutiny by establishing a sustainable development arm, the Palabora Foundation.

The Foundation promotes and supports the holistic development of disadvantaged communities within the Ba-Phalaborwa Municipality. It works in partnership with local communities within a 50km radius of Phalaborwa in the fields of education, skills development training, small business development, community health and HIV/AIDS, local economic development and tourism and small scale community projects.

Leader at the Helm:

Prior to joining the Foundation as Director, Marc Demmer, spent four years as a high school teacher in Johannesburg and 10 years with the Chamber of Mines. Demmer, who holds a teaching qualification from the University of Witwatersrand, explains that he joined the Foundation because of a strong interest to empower people.

Demmer has seen the Foundation grow from strength to strength since 1991, when he initially joined the organisation as the Education Manager. He was promoted to Director in 2002, and has in that time lived by the principle that there are no problems, rather opportunities, solutions and challenges.

Tackling Socio-Political Problems:

Recognising unemployment as one of the key socio-political problems facing the country at the moment, Demmer notes that the organisation operates with a team of 44 fulltime and 44 part-time staff. Demmer states that, “85% of the staff is made up of historically-disadvantaged South Africans.”

Through the Skills Empowerment Programme, the Foundation empowers unemployable youth with job-related skills so that they can seek employment in the formal and informal sectors or start their own businesses. Demmer explains that participants are required to pay a small commitment fee to take part in the programme.

Apart from that, he maintains that, “We work with communities and local government,” to further their mission.

The Foundation in partnership with Foskor Ltd and Sasol Nitro launched the Programme for Technological Careers (PROTEC) in 1997. The programme provides 180 Grade 10-12 learners from the surrounding schools with extra lessons in maths, English, biology, life skills and science and technology. Demmer explains that learners who show an interest and aptitude in maths, English and physical science are selected from local high schools in Grade 10 to spend three years on the programme learning, “The correct academic symbols to proceed to tertiary education in scientific careers.”

In order to encourage learners to use information communication technology during this information age, the Foundation has set up two Internet rooms where learners can access educational information. Demmer states that, “37% of our budget goes to education.”

In a bid to deal with the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS, the Foundation started the Phelang Community Centre in 2001, a comprehensive HIV/AIDS awareness programme. In the same year, the project commenced with a baseline study to determine the impact of the pandemic in the area. Demmer is optimistic that the Centre will continue to break down the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS in Phalaborwa. With the involvement of Peer Educators, whose main task is to educate people in high risk areas about HIV/AIDS, the Centre has already seen approximately 700 people voluntarily disclose their status. 

As a result of the impact that this programme has on the surrounding areas, the Limpopo Department of Health has commissioned the Foundation to roll-out the antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to the community. With this roll-out in place, Demmer holds that people requiring ARVs will no longer need to travel long distances to access AIDS drugs at the nearest district hospital.

In 2006, the Foundation won the coveted SABC/Old Mutual/Sowetan Community Builder of the Year award for the work of the Phelang Community Centre. In the same year, it also won the Socio-Economic Award, a category of the Nedbank Capital Green Mining Awards, which honours a company’s efforts in the   social and economic upliftment of the communities that it affects. The Palabora Foundation was chosen for its significant contribution to its surrounding community and for demonstrating the Palabora Mining Company’s clear intent to ensure benefits are sustained beyond the life of the mine.

Partnering for Development:

The core of the Foundation’s development approach is informed by its existing partnerships with other role players. One such partnership is with the Association for Mathematics Education of South Africa (AMESA). Through this partnership, AMESA organises the Mathematics Olympiad, a competition which is divided into three categories and run on elimination rounds. Approximately 40,000 learners participate each year throughout the Limpopo Province.

On the other hand, the Foundation has entered into partnership with the BirdLife South Africa, which coordinates the Phalaborwa Eco-Schools node of the World Wildlife Fund of South Africa. Through this programme, schools choose environmental projects that are aimed at improving their environmental management.

The Foundation is also in partnership with the Greater Phalaborwa Trade and Tourism Council to provide secretarial and administrative support for the council. Demmer is confident that its involvement will help the council to further promote tourism and create jobs for the local communities.

Moreover, the Foundation is in partnership with SEDA to set up the Business Development Programme with the aim of providing business advice to small, medium and macro enterprises and the black economic empowerment sector. The Business Development Centres conduct training programmes on businesses management, tendering procedures and methods, financial management, taxation, marketing principles, bookkeeping, business planning, budgeting and customer care.

Demmer contends that, “We capacitate them so that they can compete to provide sponsoring companies with goods and services.”

Going Forward:

In 2008, the Foundation will invest into sustaining the existing programmes and will also seek funding for new projects. “I want to assist communities to be self-reliant,” explains Demmer. To achieve this, Demmer says the Foundation will continue the culture of setting-up projects and empowering communities to take ownership. He states that the Foundation will also strengthen partnerships will local communities it serves.

The Foundation is operating on an annual budget of R24 million for 2008, with Palabora as the main source of funding.

- Butjwana Seokoma, Information Coordinator, SANGONeT.

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