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Zuma's 2014 State of the Nation address fact-checked

Kate Wilkinson, Nechama Brodie, Sintha Chiumia, Julian Rademeyer

President Jacob Zuma celebrated his government's achievements in his fifth State of the Nation address. How did he fare?

President Jacob Zuma with National Assembly speaker Max Sisulu. (David Harrison, M&G)

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 input 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 President Jacob Zuma's fifth State of the Nation speech and the last of his current term. 

Being an election year, Zuma's speech borrowed heavily from the ANC manifesto and reflected on the ruling party's claimed achievements over the past five years, and its 20 years in power. Viewed in isolation, many of the numbers he presented stand up. But they often lack context. Africa Check has endeavoured, as best it can, to evaluate Zuma's claims within a broader context. This is a look at some of the key claims that were made.

'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.

Also note, even if 3.7-million "work opportunities" were created it 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% in 2009 to 78% 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.

But 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. 

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 passes 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 increased to 734 654. In 2013, it 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.

But 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'
An odd statement. Without "access to water", people die. It follows that all South Africans therefore have some or other "access to water", be it piped, bottled, from water tankers, rain water tanks, streams or dams.

What exactly Zuma means by the phrase is not clear, as is the source of the claim. We examined a number of similar claims in a report published last year. Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa previously claimed that 94.7% of South Africans have access to "clean and safe drinking water". Her spokesperson 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 spokesperson Mac Maharaj told Africa Check the correct figure is 300 days.

'The tourism industry has grown dramatically. In 1993, South Africa received a mere three-million foreign visitors. By 2012, the figure had grown to 13-million visitors'
Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) indicates slightly more than three-million foreign travellers came to South Africa in 1993. In earlier presentations, Zuma has referred to a figure of 3.4-million foreign visitors for that year.

The latest tourism report from Stats SA confirms that during 2012 "about 13.8-million foreigners arrived in South Africa". Not all of these, however, are considered tourists.

Stats SA states 94.7% of foreign arrivals in 2012 were "visitors" of which 29.7% were "same day visitors" and 70.3% – or 9.2-million people – were overnight visitors or "tourists". The balance were classed as business travellers, students and workers.

Stats SA defines "tourist" as an overnight visitor, and tourism as "the activities of persons travelling to, and staying in places outside their usual environment, for not more than one consecutive year, for leisure, business and other purposes".

Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries are the single biggest source of foreign visitors to South Africa, accounting for more than 70% of all tourists. This figure/proportion is consistent with previous decades – the 1996 white paper on tourism indicates 73% of all international arrivals in 1995 were from African countries.

Aurelia Segatti, a researcher at the African Centre for Migration & Society explained that, as most SADC nationals, and citizens of many other countries, may enter the country for up to 90 days on a tourist visa, a "tourist" stamp does not necessarily give us an indication of individual motives for entering South Africa – and that many of these reasons may fall outside the sightseeing and curio-buying  associated with "tourism".

Segatti said that, although it is not possible to do a qualitative breakdown of exactly how many foreign visitors come to South Africa for exactly which reasons, many are involved in trade, "coming to Johannesburg and shopping in malls, and getting goods back to [their] place of origin". Many of these traders travel with their relatives. There are people who also come to visit friends and family in South Africa. Some travel for  medical reasons in order to seek private healthcare or to access public healthcare facilities. People also "visit" South Africa in an attempt to illegally enter the South African labour market.

'The overall crime rate has decreased by 21% since 2002 ... '
The decrease in the overall crime rate claimed by Zuma refers only to the period  2002/03 to 2011/12. It excludes the most recent 2012/13 crime statistics, which have shown worrying increases in a number of categories of serious and violent crime.

On the face of it, Zuma's claim appears to be supported by a 2012 fact sheet prepared by South Africa's Institute for Security Studies (ISS), which stated that "[s]ince the 2002/03 financial year, when total crime levels peaked in South Africa, the overall crime rate has decreased by 21%".

But the fact-sheet also pointedly cautioned that overall crime rates do not give us useful information in terms of increases or decreases in specific crime categories, with respect to regional crime rate changes, or the reasons for the change in crime rates.

Without this context, the victory-against-crime claim recycled in the president's State of the Nation address becomes almost meaningless.

Zuma's claim deliberately selects 2002 – a period when "total crime levels peaked in South Africa" – as its benchmark. While overall crime rates may have decreased by 21% between 2002 and 2012, the ISS noted that "overall levels of crime [for 2011/12] are actually quite comparable with the levels recorded in 1994/1995".

The decline in crime has also not been uninterrupted. According to the ISS, a "3% increase in total crime levels was recorded in the two-year period between 2007/08 and 2009/10", which was followed by marginal decreases in the subsequent two years.

Gareth Newham, head of the institute's governance, crime and justice division says that crime levels have seen an overall increase in the last two years, driven by increases in property crime and, more recently, serious violent crimes.

In Newham's view, Zuma's annual address should have focused on "what has happened in the last year, not distracting us by discussing the last 10 years.

"In the last year all forms of serious and violent crimes – including murder, attempted murder, house robbery, street robbery – all of these have increased. Murder is of particular concern, because the [murder rate] had been coming down – and this is the first time murder has increased in seven years."

'On average, the economy has grown at 3.2% a year from 1994 to 2012 despite the global recession, which claimed a million jobs'
According to the World Bank "GDP [gross domestic product] growth in South Africa has averaged 3.2% a year since 1995". This is confirmed by Africa's Check's own calculations based on real GDP tables.

While Zuma's numbers were correct, the context was noticeably lacking.

Economic growth – evaluated in terms of real GDP – has slowed in recent years. In 2012, South Africa's GDP growth fell to 2.5%. The World Bank estimated GDP growth at just 1.9% for 2013,  the lowest since the 2009 recession. It is expected to increase to a projected 2.7% for 2014.

Rian le Roux, chief economist at Old Mutual, said that since 1994 the economy has seen "periods of bad growth and times when the economy did quite well", the latter boosted by global commercial booms, and local infrastructure and credit booms. "The question is what is the growth potential at the moment and that's probably less than 3%."

This figure, Le Roux said, means there will be insufficient growth to address the backlog of unemployment or drive the creation of new jobs, and means that even where jobs are created they may not be sustainable.

This view is supported by a recent statement from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which praises South Africa's strong macro-economic policies but points out that the country's economic performance has been slower and lower than other emerging markets – and that the current growth rate "creates jobs, but not enough for the growing labor [sic] force and those currently without work".

Le Roux said that to "overcome the backlog of 20 years of isolation we need to have fast economic growth".

"There are 500 000 new matriculants who can't find jobs. The youth subsidy will not make much of a dent. We have got to raise the growth rate and increase the labour absorption capacity of the private sector."

Addressing issues like low business confidence and problematic labour relations will, le Roux said, create more favourable business conditions and "make people want to invest in South Africa".

'Jobs are now being created again.There are now 15-million people with jobs in the country, the highest ever in our history, and over 650 thousand jobs were created last year, according to Stats SA'
According to latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey published by Stats SA, 15 177 000 people were employed in the last quarter of 2013 and 653 000 jobs were created in the last year.

What Zuma failed to acknowledge is that the unemployment rate in South Africa is higher today than it was before the recession.

Prior to the recession South Africa's unemployment rate was 21.9%. According to Stats SA, 4 830 000 South Africans are classified as unemployed, resulting in an unemployment rate of 24.1%. But Stats SA uses a very narrow definition of "unemployment", which refers only people who are unemployed but actively seeking work.

An "expanded rate" of unemployment – which includes people who do not have a job and are available to work but have not taken active steps to look for work – suggests that unemployment levels were as high as 34% in the fourth quarter of last year.

'Mother to child transmission of HIV has declined sharply and we have doubled the number of people who are receiving antiretroviral treatment, from one-million to 2.4-million people in 2013'
A recent study published by the World Health Organisation showed that mother-to-child transmission of HIV in South Africa dropped from 8.5% in 2008 to 3.5% in 2010 and 2.7% in 2011.

Zuma's second claim is misleading. It could be read to mean that during 2013 the number of people on antiretroviral treatment doubled from 1-million to 2.4-million. That is not the case.

Stats SA estimated that there were 1 058 399 adults and 105 123 children receiving antiretroviral treatment in 2010. Using data from the health department, the 2012/13 District Health Barometer estimated that  2 161 170 adults were on antiretroviral treatment by the end of 2012/13.

But, as the barometer pointed out, the number of adults on antiretroviral treatment could be overestimated if patients are not excluded from counts when, for example, they die or fail to adhere to the programme.

Other concerns about the counts have also been raised.The fact that people are receiving antiretroviral treatment does not mean they are taking it or will continue to take it.

In response to some of the criticisms, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has argued that South Africa's increasing life expectancy suggests that people are adhering to their treatment.

'More than 20-million South Africans have taken the HIV test since the launch of the campaign in 2011 which indicates confidence in the health system'
South Africa's HIV counselling and testing campaign was launched in April 2010, not 2011. According the country's health department, the available data suggests that 9.7-million people had been tested by the end of 2010/11.

In 2011/12, the department claimed that 8.7-million people were tested. In 2012/13, it said close to 9-million people were tested for HIV.

The department's 2013/14 annual report will only be released later this year, but calculations based on figures in previous annual reports indicate that  around 27-million people have been tested, well above Zuma's claim.

But there appear to be serious discrepancies in the department's figures. The 2012/13 annual report states that 20-million people were tested in 2010/11. However, this is contradicted by the 2010/11 annual report which states that 9.7-million people were tested in that year.

It should also be noted that while the programme reported testing almost 9-million people in 2012/13, the department failed to meet its target of 18-million tests.

'In housing, about three-million housing units and more than 855 thousand serviced sites were delivered since 1994'
The performance monitoring and evaluation department's latest development indicators show that about 3.3-million housing units have either been completed or are "in progress".

According to Xolani Xundu, a spokesperson in the human settlements departments, 2 799 702 "houses and units" were delivered from 1994 to December 2013. He says the number of "serviced sites" delivered over that period came to 876 774.

A 2013 report by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (Seri) points out that housing figures from different government sources are often contradictory.

"Nearly 500 informal settlements have been replaced with quality housing and basic services over the past five years."

According to the human settlements department, the figure is correct, but the data does not exist in a single collated form, and should refer only to basic services as it does not necessarily include housing.

The department's Victor Rajkumar told Africa Check there were "myriad source documents" from which the department gathered its information. While no "list" exists showing that 500 informal settlements have been upgraded, Rajkumar said data from various sources indicates "at least 500 interventions or upgrading interventions" in informal settlements.

Defining the extent and status of informal settlements in South Africa remains a contentious issue.

The current baseline used to measure the number of informal settlements in South Africa comes from 2009. It states that there are approximately 2 700 informal settlements across the country, and that households in these settlements continue to grow at around 3% per annum. (According to the human settlements department, this figure will be updated during the course of 2014)

A recent report from the Housing Development Agency suggests that the number of households living in informal settlements has stabilised since 2001. In 2011 there were approximately 1.66-million households in informal residential areas or shacks not in a backyard.

Kate Tissington from the Seri told Africa Check that while government "likes to talk about upgrading settlements", the reality is that very little has been done. According to Tissington, "delivery figures around informal settlement upgrading are often very ambiguous, sometimes referring to formal housing projects and often hiding the removal of people from settlements and the growth of households living in backyard shacks".

"Since 1994, nearly 5 000 farms, comprising 4.2-million hectares, have been transferred to black people, benefiting over 200 000 families."

Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti told Parliament last year that  4 813 farms had been transferred to black people and communities between 1994 and 2013, benefiting 230 886 people.

In 2012, a survey by the South African Institute of Race Relations found that 2 864 farms had been redistributed by August 2009. Between 2009 and 2012, 848 farms were acquired, giving a total of 3 712 farms by 2012. The survey found there were over 220 000 beneficiaries by March 2012.

The accuracy of the official government figures have however been questioned.

Dr Peter Jacobs, a research specialist in economic performance and development at the Human Sciences Research Council, told Africa Check discrepancies exist between figures compiled by the rural development and land reform department, the treasury and "various researchers".

South Africa's land reform programme has been dogged by controversy amid reports of farms failing and projects collapsing.

A survey of land reform and restitution projects presented at a 2013 conference on agrarian reform organised by the HSRC, indicated that one third of 301 households surveyed were not actively using the land they had received.

"Within that third there are some [people] that have taken big loans, they are failing to pay back and in those cases the land has been taken back by the banks," said Dr Jacobs.

In recent years senior government officials, including Nkwinti, repeatedly stated that over 90% of the land transferred through the land reform programme is not productive.

Professor Ben Cousins, the founder of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas) argued that "the actual failure rate is more like 50%, and a further 30% are struggling".

To address the challenge, government embarked on a recapitalisation and development programme. By March 2013, 1 351 farms were reported to have been recapitalised, at a cost of R2.14-billion.

Jacobs believed that land reform and redistribution projects have thus far failed to bring about transformation and have created a rural elite that benefits more than the poor.

According to Cousins, "there are some success stories, but a great many failures too" for "beneficiaries who have been told [or chosen] to enter into strategic partnerships with businesses".

Zuma's speech also made no mention of the fact that far less than 10% of the land earmarked for redistribution has been transferred. The initial target, set in 2009, was that 30% of the land that was historically in the hands of "white commercial farmers" would be redistributed by 2014.

"Government is not likely to transfer the remaining 20% of land within the next 20 to 30 years," Jacobs believed.

'Nearly 80 000 land claims, totalling 3.4-million hectares, have been settled and 1.8-million people have benefited.'
A total of 67 531 land claims were submitted by 1999. A backlog in processing  saw this number grow to a total of 79 696 claims. By the end of 2012, nearly 96% of these claims were settled.

The  2012/13 annual report of the Commission on the Restitution of Land Rights states: "A total of 77 334 claims have been settled to date. Of these, 71 292 claims were settled by payment of financial compensation of R6 561 021 691 to claimants."

The annual report also indicates that a "total of 111 278 people benefited from the restitution programme in the 2012/13 financial year".

An earlier Progress Report on Land Restitution Claims delivered to the portfolio committee on rural development and land reform in February 2012 indicated that, between 1995 and January 2012, a total of 76 506 claims had been settled which impacted on 1 662 099 beneficiaries.

When the 2012/13 figure of 111 278 is added to this, it results in a total of 1 773 377 individuals. – Africa Check is a non-partisan organisation which promotes accuracy in public debate

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