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South Africa’s President Ramaphosa wrong about access to electricity in 1994

This article is more than 5 years old

South Africans have faced a week of rolling electricity blackouts, as the country’s power utility struggled to keep the lights on.

President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged the “electricity crisis” at a Human Rights Day event on Thursday 21 March 2019.

He said the economy was suffering from the blackouts but pointed to the government's progress in improving people’s access to electricity.

“None dare deny that we have made some remarkable progress in providing our people with access to electricity,” said Ramaphosa.

“In 1994, only 36% of the population in our country had access to electricity. Today, eight out of 10 South Africans have electricity in their homes.”

But the claim about access in 1994 is incorrect.

Limited official data from early 1990s

Over the years many politicians have claimed some 35% of the people had access to electricity in 1994. But the claims aren’t supported by data.

Statistics South Africa previously told Africa Check that their earliest data on electricity connections is from 1995. That year, 63.5% of households used electricity for lighting. But the agency says there were methodological problems with the survey and doesn’t recommend the data being used.

Stats SA says its earliest reliable data is from the 1996 census, which estimated that 58.2% of households had access to electricity.

Electricity experts have previously said they believe access to electricity was around 35% in 1990 or 1991. However, Africa Check has not been able to find credible data to confirm this.

54% of households connected in 1993/4

An earlier survey also refutes Ramaphosa’s claim.

The Southern Africa Labour Development Research Unit carried out a national survey of living conditions in South Africa in 1993 and 1994.

It estimated that 53.6% of all households had access to electricity.

Share of households in South Africa with access to electricity in 1993/94
Population groupAccess to electricity
African 36.5%
Coloured 86.2%
Indian 100%
White 99.8%

Source: Project for Statistics on Living Standards and Development

Yes, eight out of 10 connected today

Ramaphosa is correct about the share of people now able to access electricity. Stats SA’s 2017 general household survey shows that 84.4% of households were connected to the mains electricity supply in that year.

By understating access in 1994, Ramaphosa has overstated the government’s progress in increasing access to electricity. - Kate Wilkinson (22/03/2019)


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