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Eskom, Then and Now

Updated: Feb 7

Electricity was publicly used in South Africa for the first time with the opening of the electric telegraph line between Cape Town and Simon's town on 25 April 1860. It was built for the benefit of shipping and commerce. The line itself was a single galvanised iron wire mounted on wood poles with porcelain insulators.

The first central power station in South Africa came online in 1891 due to the conclusion being reached that a "central station supplying public or other buildings by means of transformers" would be more efficient than a number of individual lighting plants. This led to the Table Bay Harbour Board building which constituted South Africa's first central power station and distribution system.

With the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand, and the ever-increasing demand for electrification as these mines delved deeper underground, the notion of a central electricity undertaking gained support from businessmen, engineers and others. This culminated in the establishment of the Victoria Falls Power Company Ltd (VFP) in 1906. By 1915, four VFP thermal power stations – Brakpan, Simmerpan, Rosherville, and Vereeniging – had been built with a total installed capacity of more than 160 megawatts.

Even at this early stage, the Transvaal colonial government put a limit on the existence of the VFP, providing for the state expropriation of the company, or any other electricity undertaking, after a period of 35 years. The Power Act was introduced on 28 May 1910 as the state viewed the provision of electricity at the public service to be placed under its authority.

In 1923, the Electricity Supply Commission (ESCOM) was founded by Dr HJ van der Bijl. He borrowed R16 million from the State and began putting his plans into action. From the outset the undertaking was a success and within 10 years, Dr van der Bijl was able to pay back the State loan. Under his