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ELECTION FACTSHEET: Electricity in South Africa

As South Africa gears up for elections in May 2024, president Cyril Ramaphosa says “very hard and good work” is being done to keep the lights on. We look at access to electricity and how that has changed over the years.

South Africa goes to the polls on 29 May. In the run-up to the election, load-shedding – the planned power cuts implemented to balance supply and demand that have plagued the country for years – has been suspended. 

In a May 2024 interview, president Cyril Ramaphosa said this was not an election ploy but the result of “very hard and good work” being done at Eskom, the state-owned power utility. 

Throughout the election campaign, Ramaphosa and other members of the ruling African National Congress have also praised increased access to electricity since 1994. 

This factsheet looks at who has and doesn’t have access to mains electricity – electricity from the national grid, maintained by the government. And we look back at the supply of electricity in 1994, when the country held its first democratic elections.

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1. Who has access to mains electricity?

Statistics South Africa’s general household survey (GHS) includes data on access to services such as electricity since 2002.

The most recent survey covers 2023 and shows that 89.8% of South African households are connected to the grid.

This is an increase from 76.7% in 2002.

Limpopo province had the highest proportion of connected households at 97.1%, followed by the Western Cape at 94.3%.

The province with the lowest share was Gauteng, with 83%. This is a decrease from 2002, when 87.2% of households were connected to mains electricity.

Stats SA’s service delivery statistics manager, Niël Roux, previously told Africa Check that the decline observed in Gauteng was most likely due to a sharp increase in the number of households in Gauteng due to “high levels of migration into the province”. 

2. Who doesn’t have access to electricity?

Stats SA identifies the population group of a household based on what the “head of household” reports as their race.

Data provided to Africa Check by Stats SA shows that 776,566 households were not connected to mains electricity in 2023. 

Of these, 95.2% were households headed by black Africans, 4% were households headed by people who identified as coloured, 0.1% were households headed by Indians or Asians and 0.7% were households headed by white people.

3. How do people in the provinces rate their electricity supply? 

According to the latest Stats SA data on perceptions of electricity supply, from 2018, 67% of households in South Africa rated the quality of their electricity supply service as “good”. 

Roux confirmed that the question was not included in the latest survey:“We have not asked the question since 2019. Introducing electronic data collection in 2019 forced us to cut back on the number of questions we could ask.”

“We hope to fix that in the near future,” Roux said.

In the 2018 GHS, people in the Western Cape gave their electricity supply the highest rating, at 84.5%. This was followed by Mpumalanga (73.8%) and the North West (71.3%). 

People in the Free State were the most dissatisfied, with only 54.3% of households describing their electricity supply as “good”. Gauteng had the second lowest approval rating, at 57%.

4. Who had mains electricity in 1994? 

Africa Check has previously reported that South Africa’s 1996 census is likely the “earliest credible data'” on electricity access. The census was the first in South Africa’s democratic history.

It estimated that, in 1996, some 58.2% of households used electricity as their main source of lighting, with 47.4% using electricity for cooking and 46.5% for heating.

But before the first census, in late 1993 and early 1994, the Southern Africa Labour Development Research Unit surveyed some 9,000 households.

The survey found that at the end of 1993, only 54% of households across South Africa had mains electricity. The proportion of white households connected to the grid was almost 100%. But only 37% of households headed by black African people were connected to mains electricity.

However, statistics from the early 1990s should be compared with caution to more recent figures. This is due to differences in sampling, methodology and definitions.

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