#SONA gets fact-checked

This article originally appeared on africacheck.org.


South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, celebrated his government’s achievements in his fifth State of the Nation address, the last of his current term. But in a country struggling with crime, corruption, poverty and unemployment, how did he fare? We fact-checked some of the key claims.

Researched by Kate Wilkinson, Sintha Chiumia, Nechama Brodie and Julian Rademeyer

 By their very nature, State of the Nation addresses are tricky to fact-check.  They are written by committees, the product of many hands and inputs from many government departments and agencies. The facts and figures that make the final cut are carefully selected and often stripped of nuance and context to present the most positive picture possible.

This was Jacob Zuma’s fifth State of the Nation address and the last of his current term. You can read his full speech here.

Being an election year, Zuma’s speech borrowed heavily from the African National Congress manifesto and reflected on the ANC’s claimed achievements over the past five years and twenty years. Viewed in isolation, many of the numbers he presented stand up. But they often lack context. We have endeavoured, as best we can, to evaluate Zuma’s claims within a broader context.

This is a first look at some the key claims that were made. As we examine others, we will add to the report. Follow us on Twitter @AfricaCheckFacebook and Google+ for updates as we progress.

“We have created 3,7 million work opportunities over the past five years.”

The 2012/13 annual report of the department of public works states that 3,054,027 “work opportunities” were created between April 2009 and March 2013. Zuma’s claim can only be properly assessed when the figures for 2013/14 are released later this year.

It is important to note that a “work opportunity” is not a permanent job. South Africa’s department of public works defines a work opportunity as “paid work created for an individual for any period of time” as part of South Africa’s expanded public works programme. Many “work opportunities” last only a few months. For instance, a “work opportunity” lasts an average of four months in the “infrastructure sector” and six months in the “environment and culture” sector. Ideally, these opportunities are meant to equip people with skills that can help them seek formal employment.

Zuma’s claim of 3.7-million “work opportunities” also does not mean that 3.7-million people gained work. If someone is hired for one project and then moves on to another and another, each period of employment is counted as a single “work opportunity”.

“The matric pass rate has gone up from around 61 percent in 2009 to 78 percent last year and the bachelor passes improve each year.”

In 2009 the matric pass rate was 60.6%. It increased to 78.2% in 2013.

However, South Africa’s high dropout rate means that many young people will never get the chance to write their matric examinations, let alone pass them. When the matric class of 2013 started grade two in 2003 there were 1,111,858 students. But by the time they came to sit for their final exams, their numbers had fallen to 562,112. (Read our report on why the matric pass rate is not a reliable benchmark of education quality)

With regard to the second part of Zuma’s claim, bachelor passes have not improved consistently each year since 2009. According to the education department, the number of bachelor passed increased from 109,697 in 2009 to 126,371 in 2010. But in 2011 the number of bachelor passes dipped to 120,767, before increasing to 136,047 in 2012 and 171,755 in 2013.

“The number of children attending Grade R has more than doubled, moving from about 300 thousand to more than 700 thousand between 2003 and 2011.”

In 2003 there were 315,387 students enrolled in Grade R, according to the basic education department. By 2011, enrolment had increased to 734,654. In 2013, it had increased to 779,370. These figures include both public and independent schools.

“Student enrolments at universities increased by 12% while further Education and Training college enrolments have increased by 90%.”

Zuma did not give dates for the increases but his claim appears to be supported by the department of higher education and training’s 2012/13 annual report. It states that student enrolment at universities increased by 12% from 837,779 in 2009 to 938,201 in 2012/13.

However, demand for university education far outweighs the number of places available. In 2013, the University of the Witwatersrand received over 35,000 applications for approximately 5,500 first year places

Further Education and Training College enrolments increased from 345,566 in 2010 to 657,690 in 2012/13.

“When 95% of households have access to water, the 5% who still need to be provided for, feel they cannot wait a moment longer. Success is also the breeding ground of rising expectations.”

This statement says little. Without “access to water” people die. It follows that most South Africans therefore have some or other “access to water”, be it piped, bottled, from water tankers, rain water tanks, streams and dams.

The exact source of Zuma’s 95% claim is unclear. We examined a number of similar claims in a report published last year. South Africa’s water and environmental affairs minister, Edna Molewa, has previously claimed that 94.7% of South Africans have access to “clean and safe drinking water”. Her spokesman, Mava Scott, claimed last year that 96.4% of all households had access to “piped water”.

The 2011 national census put the figure of households with “access to piped water” at 91.2%.The most recent general household survey, published last year by Statistics South Africa, states that 90.8% of households had “access to piped water” in 2012. The figures differ from province to province. In the Eastern Cape, for instance, only 79% of households  were found to have access to piped water.

When we spoke to him last year, Scott explained that “[w]hen we talk about piped water, we are normally referring to infrastructure and people have access to water coming out of that infrastructure”. As recent violent water protests in South Africa’s North West province have shown, having a tap in your yard, home or street, doesn’t mean you have water or that the water is “clean and safe”.

Nationally there has been growing dissatisfaction over the quality of water. According to the general household survey, in 2012, “60,1% of households rated the quality of water-related services they received as ‘good’”.

“Satisfaction has, however, been eroding steadily since 2005 when 76,4% of users rated the services as good. Residents of Free State, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape have consistently been least satisfied with the quality of water. In 2012, 15,1% of households in Free State felt that their water smelled bad compared to 11,7% of Mpumalanga households and only 2,4% of Gauteng households. Free State households were most likely to feel that their water was unsafe to drink (15,1%), not clear (16,5%) and not tasting well (15,2%).”

Zuma’s suggestion that recent violent service delivery protests can be attributed to the “rising expectations” of the “5% who still need to be provided for”, has been characterised as “spin-doctoring” by a number of political commentators and opposition parties. We have been unable to find any reliable research that supports his contention.

“Parliament is finalising amendments to the law to give effect to this very positive development, which will cut to under 300 days, the time it takes to start a mine, from application to final approvals.”

A typed copy of Zuma’s speech that was circulated by Zuma’s office quotes him referring to “under 300 days” as the time it will take to start a mine. But, while delivering his speech in parliament, Zuma referred to “under 30 days”. (Watch from 2:22:00) Zuma was wrong. His spokesman, Mac Maharaj, told Africa Check the correct figure is 300 days.