Exclusive: Illegal electricity syndicates threaten struggling Eskom

Trained by his uncle at just 19-years-old, one man has been illegally restoring electricity for Soweto residents for over 20 years.

Electrical pylons. Picture: Sethembiso Zulu/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - While Eskom continues to bleed millions of rand through mismanagement and corruption, the power utility is facing an equally bigger threat to its recovery, thanks to illegal electricity connections by syndicates.

A man who claims to work for the utility as an electrician has told Eyewitness News of his year's long work with insiders at the company to reconnect customers who’ve been cut off for defaulting on their payments.

Eskom is in a financial black hole as it struggles to service its growing debt, which currently stands at just over R420 billion.

Soweto residents alone account for more than R17 billion of this debt through non-payment.

“All of us, in fact, we do this thing [and] most of us need money,” said the electrician, who could only speak of his unlawful practices on condition of anonymity.

Trained by his uncle at the age of 19, he’s been illegally restoring electricity for Soweto residents for over 20 years.

He pockets about R20,000 on average outside of his Eskom salary every month through the re-connections. He makes this staggering amount through billing customers up to R200 for a 10-minute job.

But the electrician does not work alone. He claims an insider at Eskom’s control centre tips him off about which accounts are too risky to tamper with.

“[You need to] follow your gut, count your risks [and] you won’t be caught.”

He says nonchalantly that as long as electricity remains expensive for the unemployed, he will stay in business.

Eskom’s Daphne Mokwena says they will take action against anyone found taking part in the criminal activity.

“It is disheartening to have such employees... where I’m setting you wouldn’t want to actually work with such employees because those are the bad apples among us.”

Ten Eskom employees have been dismissed while nine others have been placed on suspension linked to illegal connections.

(Edited by Thapelo Lekabe)