Forget illegal connections — 34,000 of Eskom’s own customers stole electricity

While South Africans are often quick to blame people who illegally connect to Eskom’s grid for stealing electricity and damaging infrastructure, the utility’s own customers are doing the same.

In the 2020/2021 financial year, Eskom identified 34,492 incidents in which its electricity meters were tampered with.

Electricity meters measure the amount of electricity supplied to a residential or commercial building.

To pay less for electricity, some Eskom customers have attempted to bypass meters by either stopping their functioning or modifying them to under-register or even stop registering how much electricity a house or building consumes.

Eskom has repeatedly stated that moving electricity meters from their original place was illegal and considered vandalism, which means perpetrators could be slapped with a fine.

It has also warned that tampering with the meters could cause injuries or death by electrocution.

Eskom meter tampering — this meter’s cabling caught fire after being tampered with.

The utility has estimated the cost of energy theft due to this vandalism during the 2020/2021 financial year amounted to R2.318 billion.

Eskom also told MyBroadband it was not possible to provide statistics on illegal connections outside of meter tampering as these are not undertaken by Eskom customers.

But the prevalence of such incidents has been reported on extensively and highlighted by the utility itself.

The connections pose a severe danger to communities, particularly children, with exposed power cables often lying on the ground or hanging in the air.

It can also result in fires or overloading of equipment, which damages infrastructure and cuts off power to paying customers.

Eskom Illegal Connection headline
Illegal connections running from a distribution transformer.

On top of Eskom’s own customers stealing electricity at the distribution level and contributing further to its financial challenges, the company is also being forced to spend more on protecting its infrastructure from sabotage on its transmission network.

In 2021, Eskom suffered attacks on its infrastructure and experienced suspicious damage to power plants.

These incidents included:

Eskom CEO André de Ruyter recently announced that the utility had taken several measures to clamp down on potential saboteurs.

These include hiring 450 more security guards and using drones with infrared cameras to protect infrastructure.

In addition, the utility has deployed smart cameras to detect unusual behaviour at its facilities.

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Forget illegal connections — 34,000 of Eskom’s own customers stole electricity