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RESIDENTS of Winterveld, northwest of Pretoria, were elated when President Jacob Zuma visited the area yesterday to launch a solar water heating system.

RESIDENTS of Winterveld, northwest of Pretoria, were elated when President Jacob Zuma visited the area yesterday to launch a solar water heating system.

A total of 270 households were already enjoying the benefits of this system, which the government expected to roll out to about a million homes by 2014.

"If we do nothing to develop ourselves we will never be a developed country ... the very point of empowerment is education," Zuma told hundreds of residents in a huge, beautifully decorated white tent set up for him and his entourage.

The installation of this solar system is aimed at reducing the water heating load on the national electricity grid. About 270 people were trained during work in the Winterveld.

Zuma said it was important for the government to empower its people and get rid of poverty.

He said a lack of education, electricity, employment and water amounted to poverty.

"Those things need to be dealt with ... but the government cannot do it alone as people think," Zuma said. "We must all participate and change our lives."

Improving life was important for future generations who would continue to reap on the fruits, he said,

With just four years remaining before South Africa celebrates 20 years of freedom, Zuma said it would be difficult to say "we are what we are because of apartheid".

"We took energy for granted and things changed drastically," he said, referring to the recent power outages countrywide that left households plunged in darkness.

He spoke of his hometown, Nkandla, where people lived in darkness, using only candles as a source of light.

This state of affairs, he said, pushed the government to act and launch a cost-effective and environmentally friendly energy system to better the lives of people.

Government departments, correctional services, hospitals and schools would also by the end of the year make use of the solar water heating system.

An unemployed father of two, Austin Maluleke, who shares his two-room home with his wife and two children, was among the 27 beneficiaries of the system.

In just two days he was able to use hot water from the geyser to bath instead of using the kettle to heat water.

"It has really changed our lives," Maluleke said. "We don't waste electricity anymore and we don't run out of electricity like we used to before the solar water heating system was installed last November."

He complained to Zuma, who visited his home, that job opportunities were scarce.

"We are trying to address that problem," Zuma said.

"I'll probably be dead when a job opportunity arises," retorted Maluleke, to which Zuma said he should never lose hope.

Zuma also visited two other homes, including that of Daniel Mabhena who is disabled. He lives with his mother and four children.

About 10400 solar water heaters are to be installed in Tshwane this year.

"This is a system with many benefits," Zuma said, urging all South Africans to convert to solar power as the electricity tariff will continue to increase over the years. - Sapa


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