South Africa: Amid Electricity Crisis, South Africans Want End to Government Monopoly

press release

Majority of citizens willing to pay more in exchange for reliable power supply.

South Africa is in the throes of a severe electricity crisis that has endured for years and is getting worse (International Finance Magazine, 2023). Eskom, the national power utility, has implemented occasional blackouts for more than a decade (BusinessTech, 2022; de Villiers, 2022), but since December 2019, "load-shedding" - as it's known locally - has become a daily occurrence. After experiencing record levels of load-shedding in 2022, the country is on a path to having its worst year yet in 2023 (Reuters, 2022; BusinessTech, 2023).

The power crisis has been blamed on Eskom's debt, old infrastructure, and poor planning in the face of increasing demand for electricity (Zulu, 2023; Vice News, 2023). Mismanagement and corruption have exacerbated the situation (Biznews, 2023).

The government declared a national "state of disaster" on electricity in February, then terminated it in April (Al Jazeera, 2023; South African Government, 2023). At the same time, President Cyril Ramaphosa installed a new minister of electricity, Kgosientsho Ramakgopa, charged with overseeing the electricity crisis response working closely with the Eskom board and management (South African Government News Agency, 2023).

Not surprisingly, a new Afrobarometer survey finds that citizens' ratings of the government's performance on providing reliable electricity are dismal, and half say they would be willing to pay more for electricity in exchange for better services.

Electricity ranks third among the most important problems that South Africans want their government to address, and about three-fifths say that Eskom must be privatised to ensure an effective supply of electricity in the country. An even greater share of citizens want the government to allow other actors to generate and distribute electricity.

Key findings

  • More than nine in 10 South Africans (95%) live in zones served by the national electric grid, up 9 percentage points since 2006 (86%).
  • Similarly, fully 95% of citizens live in households that are connected to the national power grid, and among those who are connected, nearly seven in 10 (69%) say their electricity works "most of the time" or "all of the time."
  • Almost nine in 10 South Africans (87%) say the government is doing a poor job of providing a reliable supply of electricity, and a slim majority (51%) indicate they would be willing to pay more for electricity in exchange for better services, rather than paying less and receiving poor services.
  • Almost six in 10 citizens (59%) "agree" or "strongly agree" that Eskom must be privatised to ensure effectiveness in the supply of electricity.
  • Three-fourths (76%) of South Africans say the government should allow other actors to generate and distribute electricity.

Asafika Mpako Asafikais the communications coordinator for Southern Africa

Preston Govindasamy Preston is the Surveys Manager for Southern Africa.

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