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Centre of African Studies: Events


From ‘developmental’ to ‘captured’ state: unravelling South Africa’s electricity crisis

From ‘developmental’ to ‘captured’ state: unravelling South Africa’s electricity crisis
Speaker: Dr Andrew Bowman # University of Edinburgh
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Date and Time
1st Feb 2017 16:00 - 1st Feb 2017 17:30
F.21, 7 George Square

This presentation will explore the multifaceted crisis at the South African electricity utility, Eskom, and its implications for the broader understanding of the changing political economy and developmental trajectory of South Africa and the southern African region.

The company, which remains wholly state-owned, controls almost 50% of sub-Saharan Africa’s installed electricity generation capacity. Despite this, millions of South Africans still lack electricity connections. Tariffs have soared upwards in recent years, harming both poorer domestic consumers and the country’s energy-intensive industrial core. Financial strains have necessitated government bailouts and debt guarantees. New build programmes are years behind schedule and with capacity constrained, major power cuts shook the economy in 2008, 2014 and 2015. Most recently, Eskom has become embroiled in a corruption scandal involving President Jacob Zuma and the Gupta family.

Using data from Eskom financial reports, interviews and analysis of regulatory and policy documents, the presentation argues that the underlying causes of the crisis are contradictory distributional pressures acting upon Eskom, which in turn reflect cleavages within the South African political and economic elite. The presentation will explore these contradictory pressures and institutional logics through the contestation of the electricity tariff setting process, and Eskom’s black economic empowerment procurement policies in the coal sector. 

Medupi construction site: Eskom