Transformer theft in South Africa costing Eskom millions

Eskom spent nearly R19 million in the 2022/23 financial year to replace transformers due to theft, vandalism, and illegal connections.

This is according to public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan, who also provided a breakdown of Eskom’s transformer replacement costs by province.

“In 2022-23, A direct loss of R18,953,668.45 was reported relating to the theft of transformers,” Gordhan said in response to parliamentary questions from Democratic Alliance MP Jacobus Smalle.

“Failed transformers are replaced daily, while failures as a result of theft and vandalism also take place frequently.”

He added that another significant cause of transformer failures is overloading, which occurs when customers have tampered with or bypassed meters or due to illegal connections where customers bypass the fuses and breakers meant to protect the transformer from overloading.

Limpopo is the province that contributes most to Eskom’s’ transformer repair costs across the country, with the power utility spending nearly R8.2 million fixing or replacing transformers in the province in 2022/23.

However, what contributed to the high costs in Limpopo is unclear, as the number of incidents in the province during the period was significantly less than in Gauteng and Mpumalanga.

A total of 43 transformers were repaired or replaced in Limpopo between 1 April 2022 and 31 March 2023, compared to 75 in Gauteng and 85 in Mpumalanga.

Transformer theft in Mpumalanga contributed R3.5 million to Eskom’s’ transformer replacement costs, while incidents in Gauteng cost the power utility R2.1 million.

A breakdown of Eskom’s’ transformer repair costs by province in the 2022/23 financial year is provided in the table below.

Eskom transformer repair/replacement costs: 2022/23
Province Direct loss value Recovered value
Eastern Cape R95,526.00 R0.00
Free State R4,212,323.00 R4,034,300.00
Gauteng R2,115,966.70 R25,951.00
KwaZulu-Natal R199,896.00 R237,028.00
Limpopo R8,169,166.00 R65,000.00
Mpumalanga R3,504,533.08 R160,620.00
North West R460,965.00 R0.00
Northern Cape R110,000.00 R0.00
Western Cape R85,292.67 R24,804.00
Total R18,953,668.45 R4,547,703.00

Of the overall cost of almost R19 million, Eskom has recovered R4.5 million.

The minister also provided historical figures for transformer theft incidents from 2018/19 to 2023/24.

Over the period, 44,043 incidents were recorded, with KwaZulu-Natal contributing the most incidents at 8,598.

The Eastern Cape and Gauteng are the next biggest contributors, with 7,129 and 7,030 incidents, respectively.

The data shows these incidents have reduced significantly since the 2018/19 financial year, when 9,160 incidents were recorded nationwide.

This had decreased to 5,805 incidents in the 2023/24 financial year, with just over one month to go.

The reduction in transformer theft incidents over the period is likely due to the department and Eskom’s collaboration with the South African Police Service, State Security Agency, and National Prosecuting Authority.

Gordhan said these partnerships help with crime prevention, disruptive operations, intelligence gathering, investigations, arrests, and prosecutions.

He listed several initiatives that Eskom and the department use in protecting infrastructure, including:

  • Continuous threat assessment and planning for high-risk sites;
  • Collaboration with communities to create awareness and encourage them to pay for electricity;
  • Collaboration with private security companies;
  • Strengthening of governance among the private security companies that conduct business with Eskom;
  • Conducting risk assessments and the identification and classification of high-value assets and high-risk sites; and,
  • Strengthening security measures by investing in physical security technologies through leveraging existing resources within Eskom Distribution.

The Department of Public Enterprises’ breakdown of transformer theft incidents in South Africa by province from 2018/19 to 2023/24 is provided in the table below.

Transformer theft incidents: 2018/19 to 2023/24
Operating unit 2018/19 2019/20 2020/21 2021/22 2022/23 2023/24 Total
Eastern Cape 1,171 1,080 1,194 1,280 1,418 986 7,129
Free State 702 582 569 554 518 420 3345
Gauteng 1,849 1,195 1,400 1,116 771 699 7,030
KwaZulu-Natal 2,159 1,290 1,489 1,152 1,125 1,383 8,598
Limpopo 924 828 852 857 707 523 4691
Mpumalanga 732 702 731 837 764 667 4433
North West 892 878 803 767 675 507 4522
Northern Cape 462 434 410 449 422 367 2544
Western Cape 269 274 261 372 322 253 1751
Total 9,160 7,263 7,709 7,384 6,722 5,805 44,043

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Transformer theft in South Africa costing Eskom millions