Cape Town, 17 December 2001 - The Astron Energy refinery in Milnerton stands as a regional beacon and point of significance for many residents, in particular those from nearby informal settlements such as Dunoon.
The settlement was established in the 1990s when the City of Cape Town bought the farm Dunoon for the purposes of low-income housing development in order to accommodate the population growth at nearby Marconi Beam.
Since then Dunoon has mushroomed into a combination of formal housing, shacks and backyard dwellers. The last Census survey in 2011 put Dunoon’s population at well over 30,000 residents but that number is now far higher. The area has expanded and more people have moved in due to its proximity to middle class neighbourhoods and industrial areas – both of which hold the promise of employment opportunities.
Information obtained from Wazimap lists the housing situation as follows:
- Formal houses: 3,765
- Shacks: 9,177
- Backyard shacks: 636
- Apartments: 345
- Other: 462
Like many urban nodes all across South Africa, the area around the Astron Energy refinery is a mixture of the affluent, industrialised, working class and deep-seated poverty. It can make for a toxic cocktail in which crime, unrest, civil disobedience, stereotyping, exclusion and hardened attitudes can take root. With few winners.
In 2017, Astron Energy embarked on an engagement programme with the community of Dunoon to better understand key issues and needs and to see where there could be areas of co-operation and assistance. The company has engagement programmes with other key stakeholder groupings, including the likes of the Western Cape Ekuhlaleni Workers Forum and the Sisonke Community Forum in Gqberha in the Eastern Cape.
In a recent letter, the community in the form of the Dunoon Forum, a representative group elected and chosen to report to the community, writes: “Four years ago we embarked on a journey with you, a journey that both of us didn't know or understand where it will take us. Together we can agree that it has not been a smooth journey, but rather a challenging, interesting and exciting journey. We have learnt a lot from each other and by successfully working together we have achieved a lot.
“It gives us great pleasure to appreciate your time and effort that you have shown in developing our community,” the letter continues. “Your continued commitment and support towards developing our community has brought a significant change to many families.”
According to Donna Fata, Corporate Affairs Manager at the Refinery, the community engagement programme came about based on the understanding that co-operation was the best way forward to ensure sustainable development of the greater Milnerton area in which the refinery is located.
“Fences are needed for security, particularly given the strategic nature of our business to ensure a continuous supply of fuel to the public and various industries such as the aviation sector,” Fata says. “But in order to be sustainable and impactful we had to break down the barriers between us as a key business entity in the region and the communities around us. This is where our community engagement project is so important as it provides us with the social licence to operate.”
A key part of this was to create a defined and trusted communication platform between the community and the refinery.
The letter from the community forum further states: “We have managed to create a process where there is transparency if and when employment opportunities are available throughout the refinery.”
Fata said this was an important element of building trust between the business and the community.
The community forum adds that through the relationship with Astron Energy, “we have also created a bridge between the Dunoon community and contracting companies (at Astron Energy) and we continue to manage and control the relationship between our community and the contracting companies”.
This has led to a number of benefits, including seeing a rise in the employment rate from 10% to 15%. “Even though this may seem a bit low, we see it as a good step in the right direction and 5% is a significant change for us,” the forum adds.
Contracting companies to Astron Energy have also sought to ensure that residents from Dunoon receive equal and fair access to employment opportunities by creating platforms that are easily accessible.
The company runs a number of social investment initiatives, particularly in the education and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) spaces with key partners such as the Cape Town Science Centre as part of the Astron Energy Schools Programme. This supports a total of 20 schools (10 primary schools, 10 high schools) in the Western Cape Education Department Metro North district which covers the communities surrounding the refinery.
These social investment commitments have also flowed via the contracting companies and have included a skills development programme for 45 young people, with several attendees having gone on to work at Astron Energy as semi-skilled labourers, as well as an annual one-year learnership programme for 10 youth. In addition, there has been food parcels, upgrades done to a school for physically challenged children, a soup kitchen and the installation of four water tanks for use by the community.
“We thank you very much for giving us this opportunity and we extend our deepest appreciation to all the contracting companies that have taken their time to listen, show interest and commitment to our community. We know there is still more we can do but what we have achieved gives us a direction and hope,” the community forum concludes.
Fata says: “We believe in shared value and sustainability and this can only be achieved by building relationships based on trust and for the benefit of all, but particularly for the marginalised.
“Together we all have a responsibility to build a better future for our area and our country,” she adds.