South Africa has a history of being one of the world leaders in electricity adoption and production.
South Africa was one of the first countries in the world to use electricity on a commercial basis, and in 1882 Kimberley became the first city in the world to introduce street lights.
Eskom was established in 1923 as the Electricity Supply Commission (Escom) and started to produce electricity in 1925.
In the following decades Eskom built an extensive transmission system of 220,000km of power lines linking all major cities in the country.
So successful was Eskom that by the end of 1990 it was supplying more than half the electricity in Africa.
Eskom also became a highly efficient electricity producer and in its 1994 annual report it promoted the fact that it was the world’s lowest-cost producer of electricity.
ANC government breaks Eskom
This once stable, efficient and well-run power producer was broken by the ANC government, especially under the Jacob Zuma presidency.
Years of corruption, incompetence and political meddling has brought Eskom to its knees, and it is now begging for bailouts to stay afloat.
Eskom’s growing debt burden, which already exceeds R400 billion and can grow to R600 billion in the next three years, means it is technically bankrupt.
So bad is the situation that former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene said Eskom is the single biggest risk to South Africa’s economy.
This, however, is not the only damage the power utility is doing to the economy.
Electricity is the cornerstone of any modern economy, and Eskom is failing spectacularly in its mandate to provide stable power to South African homes and businesses.
The company who supplied over half the electricity in Africa in 1990 can now not even keep the lights on in its home country.
Load-shedding and blackouts have become part of daily life for all South Africans without the luxury of generators or battery backups.
The damage done under Zuma
Most of the damage done to Eskom occurred over the last decade after Zuma became president.
In 2008, Eskom was still functioning fairly well, with low electricity costs and a manageable and competent workforce.
Over the last few years Eskom became known for gross mismanagement, which energy expert Ted Blom said cost South Africa R1.4 trillion.
Blom said the ANC government employed people who do not know what is going on, and that the ANC is not prepared to look outside of the party for people with the required skills to run Eskom.
Apart from the lack of skills, Blom said the average employee at Eskom gets four times more than what they should be earning.
The combination of these factors has gutted Eskom, and it is now only a shadow of the former company which was a global leader in power production.
Eskom – 2008 versus 2018
The image below provides an overview of how Eskom changed over the last 10 years.