Why the Lights Went Out: Reform in the South African Energy Sector

This case uses the example of South Africa’s electricity sector to explore how ambitious agendas for reform interact with contestation among multiple, divergent interests. For most of the twentieth century, South Africa’s electricity generation, transmission and distribution were controlled by a small number of public sector players, with the state-owned enterprise, ESKOM, the dominant player.  In 1998, reformers outlined a far-reaching program of unbundling and private participation in the sector. In 2004, the decision to restructure the sector was reversed – but the time lost in the intervening six years has been a crucial contributory factor to the electricity supply crisis that hit the country in 2008, and continues into the present. A central goal of the case discussion is to explore different ways in which reformers might go about aligning their agendas with a country’s political economy realities. 


Case studies are integral teaching tools for the Leadership Academy for Development workshops conducted around the world.