This week we mark the start of government’s new large-scale electrification programme.

The project was in line with the ANC government’s Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), which sought to ensure equal access to basic services for all South Africans.

On 26 October 1994, Eskom announced plans to spend R250 million to electrify 2500 schools and clinics in the country.

2.5 million houses were also to be connected to the grid over a five-year period.

The drive was a result of talks that had been held in 1992 at the National Electrification Conference, where a forum was established to shape an electrification plan for a new South Africa.

The ANC was involved in the negotiations as they ran concurrently with the political transition talks.

According to the GNESD Energy Access Knowledge Base website, stakeholders sought a plan that would be politically and practically sound and implementable.

The electrification conference also led the establishment of the National Electricity Regulator.

More than 5.2 million homes were connected to the grid between 1994 and 2010.

Twelve thousand schools were also electrified.

Preparations for the electrification programme were done in the late 80s and it was a second phase of South Africa’s electrification drive, which had mostly been in rural White farm households.

In the 80s, less than a third of the South African population had access to electricity.

Funding

At first, the power utility largely financed the programme.

The Treasury began funding the capital cost in 2000, using a national electrification fund.

Municipalities are the major distributors of electricity although Eskom does the same in some areas.

To date, Eskom, municipalities and non-grid service providers have connected at least 88% of South African households.

However, high electricity costs and power reliability remain a concern in some quarters.

While about 2.6% of South Africans benefit from government’s Free Basic Electricity, some say the high cost of living and rapid rise in electricity prices is turning electricity into a luxury for families who are already battling to pay municipal rates.

It’s also left finances of several major cities in the red.

Customers are now either reducing the use of electricity through energy efficiency mechanisms or theft. Others are switching to alternative sources.