Worldaware Business Awards: award goes to South African firm for the first time.

Position:1993; Palabora Mining Company Ltd.

Companies winning recognition for their work in developing countries through the World-aware Business Awards include Rio Tinto Zimbabwe, South Africa's Palabora Mining Company Ltd and a British husband-and-wife outfit, Eureka UK Ltd, whose innovative water-drilling rigs are in service in many parts of Africa.

The Worldaware Business Awards categories are the Social Progress Award, sponsored by Williamson Tea; the Effective Communication Award; the Long-Term Commitment Award, sponsored by RTZ; the Sustainable Development Award, sponsored by Tate & Lyle; and a new category, the Small Business Award, sponsored by Booker Tate Ltd. There are also an individual award, the World Vision Award for Development Initiative, and a Special Commendation.

Palabora Mining, 38.9% of which is owned by RTZ of the UK, has won the Social Progress Award for its training centre for unemployed young people in the Witwatersrand area of South Africa. In just three years, the Reef Training Centre has produced nearly 600 graduates in the crafts of the building and motor industries.

A high proportion of them have found employment despite South Africa's desperately failing economy.

This is the first year in which companies working in South Africa have competed for the awards.

Returned exiles, the unemployed and villagers keen to bring electricity or better plumbing to their communities meet at the Reef Training Centre, which was opened in 1990 by the Palabora Foundation to provide the skills which many South Africans need. The foundation was set up in 1987.

Of the 600 men and women who have graduated from the centre, some have stayed on to help there. About 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 that was accessible from the 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, recalls that the foundation decided to teach building because of South Africa's housing problem and to teach the motor trade because it is an African success story. A backyard industry has sprung up to repair the private-sector 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.

The fastest completion of the nine-week course was seven weeks and was achieved by Priscilla Mpala. Instruction is practical. Plumbers do not merely learn about pipes; they install them.

The centre's certificates are recognised by building employers. The ten instructors are well qualified and are "people who go an extra mile for our trainees", comments 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 now 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 expresses dismay at the poor standards of skills he encounters in his field.

Apart from the unemployed, the centre has trained exiles sponsored by the African National Congress (ANC), youngsters from children's shelters and unskilled labourers who lost their jobs in the recession and were offered retraining by their employers.

Most of the students 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 now running his own business and employs other former students of the centre.

Finding the money

Finding the money to train the unemployed is a continuing battle, Rix contends. The centre cost about $2.25m to create and costs some $900,000 a year to run. The foundation, since it was set up, has received $12m from the Palabora copper-mining company. But it runs many projects: nursery schools for 800 children; training programmes for librarians and for maths and science teachers; and adult-education programmes.

Companies and municipalities which send employees to the Reef Training Centre pay a higher fee than unemployed students, and this higher fee helps to subsidise the training of jobless men and women. Sponsorship of students by the ANC and by welfare organisations also helps. Several organisations offer bursaries.

Cuan Elgin, once a professional hunter, is environmental manager. He is responsible for the buildings, and he has established the wildlife sanctuary and a field study centre, financed by Nestle of Switzerland, which has dormitories for 48 schoolchildren. Hundreds of children come from township schools. Scout groups come to a camp on the premises, anglers come to fish in the reservoirs created by many dams, and wildlife organisations also send representatives. The sanctuary is home to hippopotamus, impala, kudu, wildebeest and 150 species of birds. Local people are allowed to cut thatch and gather firewood in the sanctuary, and they can buy venison, pork, fish, chicken and vegetables cheaply.

The Worldaware Business Awards judges observe, "Given the currently high rates of illiteracy and the lack of technical training facilities available in South Africa, the judges consider that the Reef Training Centre is a most important and worthy contribution to social progress. The Palabora Mining Company should be encouraged to persevere with the centre through the present economic and employment slump, as an example for others to follow when an upturn in the economy highlights the scarcity of trained labour."


To continue reading