HomeFeatures/AnalysisEskom’s electrification programme improves quality of life

Eskom’s electrification programme improves quality of life

Over 90% of South African households currently have access to electricity, a jump leap from a mere 34% in 1991 when the electrification programme was launched.

In partnership with the Department of Energy (DoE), Eskom has concluded the current financial year ending March 2017, having realised an amazing achievement of connecting 207,436 new households to the electricity grid against a target of 169,722 that has been set for us by the Department of Energy.

This effectively means that, from the dawn of democracy in 1994 until now, a cumulative total of 4.7 million new households have been connected to the grid.

Eskom to drive electrification

More work still needs to be done to reach the remaining 10% of households that still do not have access to electricity.

To this end, that National Treasury has allocated about R18 billion ($1 billion) to the DoE for electrification over the next three years. Read more…

An estimated 723,000 grid and 60,000 non-grid connections to households are expected to be made over the medium term, funded by transfers to implementing municipalities, non-grid service providers and Eskom.

As noted by the National Treasury in the Estimates of National Expenditure, the cost of connections is expected to increase over the medium term as the integrated national electrification programme shifts to deep rural areas, requiring more expensive hardware and covering larger geographic areas.

Electrification brings with it social and economic benefits, with the most immediate benefit being that beneficiaries, and women in particular, no longer have to walk long distances to collect fire wood. Read more…

Nations that use more power, tend to have increased income levels and educational attainment, as well as lower risk of infant mortality. South Africa is no different to this trend.

Eskom exists to continuously have a positive impact on the lives of all South Africans through a robust programme of electrifying every household.

Eskom has responded to the call by government to implement universal access and connected over 1.7 million new households in the period up to the year 2000, exceeding the target set by government.

When Eskom exceeded the government programme, it was making a new connection every 30 seconds, planting a pole every 10 seconds, and stringing 200m of cable every minute.


The prevailing policies in South Africa prior to 1994 resulted in the majority of the black population being excluded from benefiting in basic services such as water and electricity.

Lack of access to these basic services stalled economic growth. There were few or no community social upliftment programmes, and in certain parts of the country crime rates were high.

A simple activity such as storing medicine and antibiotics was a challenge in these communities. Quality of life was negatively impacted. School-going children were deprived of access to better education.

The newly elected democratic government inherited a huge service delivery backlog. In 1991, only 34% of households had access to electricity – and this was the period when the electrification drive commenced.

The Electrification Programme

The Electrification Programme was endorsed after 1994 as part of the government’s Reconstruction and Development Programme initiative.

We saw remarkable progress in 2006; although there was still an estimated backlog of approximately 3.4 million household connections that still had to be electrified.

Eskom, working with the Department of Energy and other implementing agencies, implemented a programme to respond and address this challenge.

Our communities are now experiencing improvement and betterment of their lifestyle, from the moment they get up in the morning, through their meals, chores, and work, until they go to bed at night.

This programme has brought significant economic benefits to the country. Due to the size of the infrastructure required to achieve this success story, the programme has contributed significantly to the commodity market, with demand for wooden and concrete poles, transformers, meters, aluminium conductors, cables and other materials.

This translates to a total capital injection of R21 billion ($1.6 billion) in the past thirteen years into the economy, and a further additional capital injection of R15 billion ($1.1 billion) is projected in the next three years.

The programme has generated a significant number of job opportunities in the form of contractors and consultancy firms, outlets to sell electricity units and maintenance activities to the vast infrastructure that criss-crosses the length and breadth of our country.

We have seen an increase in new small businesses developing under the programme, both in rural and urban areas.  Access to electricity by the majority of South Africans has stimulated a high demand for electrical home appliances.

A significant number of small businesses such as welding workshops, electrical appliance repair shops, and many more sustainable businesses have been developed.

The impact of access to electricity by both rural and urban citizens has positively contributed to socio-economic factors in different sectors of the country such as the following:

  • In education, lighting in classrooms and access to computers at schools and in homes: a large number of unemployed youths have benefited from the training programme developed.
  • In the health sector: an impact on the environment because of a reduction in the burning of wood and coal, thus helping to combat respiratory diseases in the affected areas.
  • In the job market: a significant number of jobs have been created since the programme started.
  • In combating crime: due to the availability of electricity in previously disadvantaged areas, street lighting has helped in the fight against crime.
  • Statistics on paraffin; stove and candle accidents have gone down because people are now using electricity.
  • There has been news of improved revenue by small businesses, as they can stay open until late.
  • Communities can make more informed decisions on issues affecting their lives due to the fact that they can now watch television; listen to the radio; access information from the internet and other information sources

Eskom’s programme of electrifying the previously disadvantaged communities has brought changes that have just made life safer and better – such as electric lights instead of dangerous candles; refrigerators to keep food fresh; and electric fans to bring relief on a hot summer’s day.

In areas where there has been a prolonged wait for these services, we have noticed an increase in social unrest and community protests.

The implementation strategy emphasised a rural bias, with the biggest grant funding being provided to the provinces with the biggest backlog (the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, and the North West).

From 1994 year-to-date, Eskom’s impact on each of the provinces has been as follows:

  • 1,045,328 new connections in Limpopo
  • 922,518 in the Eastern Cape
  • 771,128 in KwaZulu-Natal
  • 614,649 in the North West
  • 455,656 in Mpumalanga
  • 412,730 in Gauteng
  • 227,879 in the Western Cape
  • 188,795 in the Free State and
  • 83,695 in the Northern Cape

As a result, nationally, we have moved from a point where only 34% of households had access to electricity to over 90%, according to the 2016 Stats SA Community Service Survey.

These successes are in line with, and fit in perfectly with, the government’s initiative to accelerate growth and improve the lives of our people.

Eskom endeavours to reach universal access by 2020; and is undertaking to assist and apply the lessons learnt and best practices to help the municipalities and all implementing agents. Through the Active Partnering Programme, Eskom is engaging the Department of Energy to drive universal access in the municipal areas of supply.


Featured image: 123rf

Ashley Theron
Ashley Theron-Ord is based in Cape Town, South Africa at Clarion Events-Africa. She is the Senior Content Producer across media brands including ESI Africa, Smart Energy International, Power Engineering International and Mining Review Africa.