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LOCAL ELECTION FACTSHEET: Electricity in South Africa

Electricity is a “foremost pressing issue” for communities across South Africa, president Cyril Ramaphosa says, as the country heads into local elections. We look at what the statistics reveal about grid electricity supply in our nine provinces, and how it has changed since 1994.

South Africa is set to hold municipal elections on 1 November 2021. Citizens will elect representatives for district, metropolitan and local municipal councils across the nine provinces.

Over the final voter registration weekend in September 2021, angry citizens confronted president Cyril Ramaphosa about poor electricity supply, while he was visiting Soweto. 

The president later acknowledged that electricity had “become the foremost pressing issue for communities around the country”. 

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

1. Who has access to mains electricity?

Statistics South Africa’s general household survey has data on access to services such as electricity, since 2002. 

The latest survey is for 2019. The 2020 survey was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Stats SA’s service delivery statistics manager Niël Roux told Africa Check. It’s likely to be released on 28 October 2021. 

In 2019, 85% of South African households were connected to mains electricity. In 2002, 76.7% of households were connected.  

Limpopo has the highest share of connected households: 93.4% of the province’s households have mains electricity.

Gauteng has the lowest. The share of Gauteng households with mains electricity dropped from 87.2% in 2002 to 76.6% in 2019. 

Roux said: “The decline observed in Gauteng is most likely driven by the sharp growth in the number of households in Gauteng” due to “high levels of migration into the province”.

2. Who doesn’t have access to electricity?

In 2019, about 15% of South Africa’s households were not connected to mains electricity, Stats SA says.

Stats SA identifies the population group of a household according to what the “head of the household” says they are.

In 2019, 17.6% of households headed by black Africans were not connected to mains electricity. This was followed by households headed by people who identified as coloured (6.3%), then those with Indian or Asian headed households (3%), and finally households headed by white people, at 1.5%.

3. How people across 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”. The question was not included in the 2019 survey, Roux told Africa Check. 

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

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

4. Who had mains electricity in 1994? 

In an earlier report, Africa Check quoted Roux as saying South Africa’s 1996 census was probably 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 for lighting, with 47.4% using electricity for cooking and 46.5% for heating.

But earlier than 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 only 54% of households across South Africa had mains electricity in late 1993. The share of white households connected to grid electricity was almost 100%. But only 37% of households headed by black African people were connected to mains electricity.

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

Further Reading

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