The History of the Sabie Gorge and Malieveld Hydro-electric Powerstations

From 1881 established companies, the most notable being Transvaal Gold Mining Estates, Ltd. (TGME) and Messrs. Glynn’s Lydenburg Ltd. took over the mines and converted from alluvial mining to reef mining. Small operators also continued mining and even after the First World War (1914-1918) a number of small mines were still operating in the district.

Sabie River Gorge Power Station

Shortage of electrical power in the dry season at Sabie seriously restricted normal mining operations, since the mines could not be pumped dry. Any further development was also hampered by the absence of an adequate and reliable power supply. One of the large mining companies owned a small hydro-electric station at the foot of the Sabie Falls, which supplied power to its own mines and others according to a priority allocation laid down by the Department of Mines and Industries. However, the total power available was inadequate to meet the requirements of all the mines and the smaller properties could not afford to provide their own power. Furthermore, power production had to be concentrated to be produced economically.

Sabie River Gorge Power Station Layout Plan

The establishment of a power station at Sabie was one of the first projects undertaken by the Commission. Survey work to establish a hydro-electric power station in the Sabie Valley, at a place known as “the inaccessible gorge”, was started shortly afterwards.

Transport of Siemens Transformer

Because the mining industry could not give a guarantee of a possible future load, and their needs being less than they anticipated, the Commission had to abandon the larger scheme in favor of a smaller operation. A site closer to Sabie had to be found in order to cheapen the cost of transmission. Survey work started in June 1924 on the farm Bergvliet 692, 14 km down stream from Sabie on the Sabie River. Early in 1925, tenders were invited for the supply and construction of the plant. On 5 June 1925 a permit was obtained from the Electricity Control Board for the establishment of a hydro-electric undertaking in the Sabie District and an application was made to the Water Court for the necessary water rights on the Sabie River.

Malieveld Power Station Building

While the Sabie River scheme was being revised, it was found to be necessary to install a small hydro-electric plant on the Malieveld Spruit to prevent flooding of the mines during the winter. This power plant was erected in collaboration with Glynn’s Lydenburg Ltd. and started production on 1 December 1925. When the Sabie River Gorge scheme was completed in 1927, the Malieveld Spruit plant was closed. Initially it was considered to use the plant as a stand-by, but it was dismantled after the closure.

Transformers Sabie Gorge Power Station

The Sabie River Gorge station was the first station to be designed by Escom engineers. The Sabie undertaking was the first project where Escom generated its own electricity after its establishment and it was, until the Hendrik Verwoerd Power Station began to generate power in 1971, the only hydro-electric power station erected by Eskom.

Francis Type Turbine

The scheme started up provisionally for testing in March 1927 and commercial operation started on 1 April 1928. The licensed supply/delivery area was within a 14 km radius from the Sabie Railway Station. This excluded the areas under jurisdiction of the municipality, unless the Commission obtained permission from the local authorities for the supply of electricity.

According to the Annual Report of 1930, the Sabie Undertaking was designed for an output of approximately 5,5 million units per year. Up to 1930 the electricity demand was far less than the maximum output. A yearly increase of +/- 40 % can however be noted from 1928 onwards, and in 1931 the output was exceeded and 6,585 553 million units were sold.

Setting Basin at Intake Works Sabie Gorge Power Station

As the units sold increased, the average price per unit decreased and the consumers had to pay only 66% of the estimated price. The reason for this is because production costs of hydro-electric schemes are affected only to a limited extent by the output. Any increase in consumer demand has very little impact on the operating expenditure and results in a substantial reduction in the average cost per unit.

Pipeline at Sabie Gorge Power Station

The output peaked in 1947 when 7,604 777 units were produced. After 1947 a steady decline in output can be observed, with the exception of 1963 and 1964. The reason for this can be attributed to the fact that the town of Graskop was connected to the Sabie River Gorge scheme.

After the closure of the plant on 5 November 1964 a sharp drop in output occurred. By 1967, only 17 000 units were produced. The 1968 Annual Report only mentions that the power station was used as a standby for emergencies. After 1971, with the completion of the Hendrik Verwoerd power station, the Sabie scheme was no longer noted in the Annual Report and also excluded on the map of the Eastern Transvaal Undertaking.

Gleaned from Eskom Archives.

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