29 March 2015, Pretoria — President Jacob Zuma says Eskom has since the dawn of democracy had to meet a demand for electricity which had not been met under Apartheid, and that naturally led to an extraordinary pressure on the national grid.
He was replying to Parliamentary questions for written reply. The President said the end of apartheid and the election of a new democratic government in 1994 provided the impetus for all policy and institutional shifts, underpinning the electrification programme.
“These shifts were necessary to address the historical racially-based disparity in the provision of key infrastructure,” he said on Friday.
He said in 1994, only 34% of South Africans had access to electricity, the majority of which were white people and only 12% of that was rural electrification.
The President said the dawn of democracy came with the added responsibility to connect every household which was denied access to the national grid under the Apartheid regime.
“This required that additional transmission and distribution infrastructure be made available to cater to the increased demand of connecting millions of households to the grid.
“This demand continued to increase without the requisite supply options being secured as the new democratic government had to balance the cost of delivering many key priorities for a democratic South Africa including the provision of adequate health, education infrastructure and basic services, to cater for the many millions of South Africans previously not catered for,” he said.
He said since 1994, over 89% of households now have access to electricity, and universal access remains a key priority.
However, the President said Eskom’s technical challenges, particularly the failure to maintain its plants, further constrained the power system.
The President said historic disparity in delivering key infrastructure projects to the majority of South Africans has a significant bearing on the energy challenges experienced today.
“During apartheid, Eskom’s focus was in meeting the demand of only five million citizens. Post-apartheid, this number has grown considerably to over 12.2 million citizens reducing the reserve margin levels that had been created.
“I have not denied that there are challenges in the electricity industry and within Eskom. The Cabinet’s Eskom financial support package of September 2014 attests to that. During the State of the Nation Address, I further reiterated that resolving energy was the number one priority to enable economic growth,” he said.