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Draft Terms of Reference for South Africa


Ms. Winifred Mandhlazi


South Africa is a country well-endowed with energy resources. The country has an installed generative capacity of 40 000 MW. Eskom, the national utility owns and operates most of the 281 000 km of voltage transmission and distribution lines in South Africa. In the winter of 1999, the country had a surplus of some 12 000 MW. Yet, in spite of the country’s large supply potential, there are areas in the country, rural areas in particular, where access to energy is a constraint to the development and the well-being of the population in those areas.

As is the case with other developing countries in the region, biomass fuels constitute a major proportion of the energy consumed in the rural households in South Africa. Approximately 11 million tons of fuelwood are consumed per annum. Fuelwood is needed for cooking and heating at the household level. Informal income-generating activities such as beer brewing, baking and the preparation of clay products also require inputs of energy which are met through fuelwood or dung in the rural areas. Some of the fuels used include paraffin, petrol in generators and electricity. The use of the latter in rural areas is mostly limited to lighting and entertainment purposes.

In addition, batteries are also used for radio and television purposes. Consequently, expenditure on household energy is high and the act of acquiring the various fuels tends to be cumbersome.

Rural electrification is seen as the ideal solution to provide energy for various purposes. Not only is electricity recommended for the alleviation of environmental problems associated with the use of traditional fuels and the improvement of social status, but it is also seen as a catalyst for the improvement of rural economies. The National Electrification Programme set a target of 2.5 million electrified households for the period 1994 to the end of 1999. As at December 1999 this target had been surpassed. 

Despite its success, a large proportion of rural households remain without electricity. The high capital costs associated with grid electricity are due to difficult terrain, low settlement density, long distances from the national grid network and low consumption of electricity. In Eskom’s 1998 Annual Report, it is indicated that the average cost per connection is around R3000, the average consumption per customer s 107 kWh, the average monthly sales stand at R27 and the average monthly operating cost per customer is R19. The consumption of electricity in rural households is around 75kWh, about 25% less than the national average.

Such low consumption of electricity does not seem to be an incentive for electricity suppliers who need to recover capital and operation costs of providing electricity. 

Despite being not economically viable, the electrification of previously ignored settlements is one of the high priorities of the democratic government. In the Energy White paper released in December 1998, the Government of South Africa expresses its intentions with regard to energy provision. The White Paper on Energy Policy for the Republic of South Africa (1998) states the following:

·        ‘Government will promote access to affordable energy services for disadvantaged households, small businesses, small farms and community services’

 ·        ‘Government commits itself to implementing reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to progressively realize universal household access to electricity’

In its endeavour to implement Government’s policy on energy, the Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) has drafted guidelines for the implementation of a rural electrification programme and has already began to embark on implementation. As stipulated in the Energy White Paper (1998) Government is committed to the provision of subsidies to rural households for electrification.  Both grid and non-grid technologies will be used to provide electricity to rural communities depending on economic viability. As mentioned in page 37 of the Energy White Paper, annual targets will be set for off-grid electrification in accordance with the national electrification programme.

Through the National Electrification Coordinating Committee established in 1999 to advice the minister on issues pertaining to electrification, the Department has began the process of planning for future electrification of rural areas. The concept of energisation in the rural areas as opposed to electrification only is being promoted. Due to the fact that electricity is mainly used for lighting and entertainment, the provision of other fuels that will cater for thermal energy needs is being addressed. Already six consortiums have been selected to participate in the pilot phase aiming at the supply of non-grid electrification as part of an energisation package to rural areas prioritised for presidential projects in the provinces of KwaZulu Natal, Eastern Cape and the Northern Province.

At present, the thrust of South Africa’s electrification programme is on service delivery rather the provision of energy for productive purposes. Research conducted by AFREPREN/FWD on rural electrification indicates that the provision of energy for services is not sustainable and has no substantial benefits to the rural communities. It would seem therefore that policy formulation in South Africa does not take into consideration lessons learned from other countries.

The integration of energy with other development inputs for rural development is being pursued within the Department at Ministerial level. The development of the Integrated Sustainable Rural Development Strategy (ISRDS) is one of the President’s priority areas of focus and a lot of effort has been expended by the Department towards finalising it.

In terms of the South African Constitution, local authorities are responsible for the provision of electricity in their area of jurisdiction. The rural local authorities in comparison to their urban counter-parts, lack the capacity to engage in planning for the delivery of such services. So, the planning and the implementation of integrated service delivery in line with the ISRDS will require the empowerment of rural authorities. In addition, substantial coordination will be required at the national level.

Gender relations are increasingly receiving attention in the energy and development circles. The fact that women happen to be the main gatherers and users of biomass fuels and they experience various difficulties when accessing and utilising these fuels is acknowledged in the Energy White Paper. It is also recognized that 30% of households in South Africa are women-headed and that women tend to contribute a large proportion of their income as well as their unpaid labour towards the well-being of their families.

Research on women in the small business sector indicate that women entrepreneurs have still to benefit from policy interventions designed to alleviate the constraints in the small business sector. Some of the main obstacles for women include lack of start-up capital, discriminating practices against women, lack of personal asset base to obtain loans and violence against women’s enterprises.

According to the October Household Survey 1995, the majority of women are survivalists compared with only 23% of men. In rural areas, more than 60% of women entrepreneurs are in the survivalist sector. Going up the enterprise continuum, 75% of males are in the micro and very small sectors compared with 51% of women.

The establishment by Government of structures like the Office on the Status of Women which is based in the President’s office and the Commission on Gender Equality are some of the measures that can facilitate the promotion of women-focused policies.

With all these policies and structures in place, it remains to be seen whether the provision of energy will be in a manner that will benefit rural development and the empowerment of women and growth of their enterprises.

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