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By Dr Mosa Phadi and Joel Pearson


In 2006, Eskom unveiled plans for a new multi-billion rand mega-project: the construction of the Medupi coal power station in the small town of Lephalale in Limpopo Province. This once quiettown near the Botswana border suddenly found itself inundated with massive new developmentsand an influx of people from around South Africa and the world. This enormous expansion caught the small semi-urban municipality unaware, and brought with it both crisis and opportunity. The municipality’s incapacity to deal with some of the effects of the sudden boom revealed unresolved historical legacies of a segregated town that was managed and remained strongly dependent ontwo major corporations: Exxaro and Eskom. At the same time, the boom catalyzed bigger dreams for the future: the creation of the first post-apartheid city.

This report will examine how a municipality born without ownership of land and basic service infrastructure has attempted to overcome its history and carve out a greater space of self-sufficiency. It will show how negotiation and compromise have characterised the operation of the municipality since its inception. It will reveal how local governance is shaped and reshaped by the
complex entanglements of government, party politics, private property owners, developers and the grander forces of capital. This research forms part of a three year project which explores emerging dynamics of local government in areas of growing mineral extraction, particularly in Limpopo Province. In June 2015, the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI) began work in Lephalale. We were granted permission to interview an extensive range of officials working within the municipality. In addition, we conducted interviews with former officials, mayors, Exxaro employees and a variety of townsfolk who have lived in Lephalale over many decades. This was supplemented by substantial archival material contained in the municipality’s records keeping division.

Chapter I begins with a history of the Lephalale Local Municipality: the establishment of the first council of Ellisras in 1986 against Iscor and Eskom’s predominance in the area; the transition to democracy and the amalgamation of the municipality; and the beginning of Medupi and the boom that followed. Chapter II and III examine some of the legacies of this history and how they have affected land use, spatial planning and the provision of bulk services. Chapter IV discusses the municipality’s difficulties of overcoming this legacy, of asserting its role as the determining driver in the unfolding developments, and realizing its ambition of building a city.

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