/ 24 March 2015

Has President Jacob Zuma’s government done ‘a good job’?

President Jacob Zuma.
Former president Jacob Zuma.

President Jacob Zuma’s government has done “a good job of stabilising the economy and investing in infrastructure to propel the economy into the next phase of growth, while investing in improving the quality of life of the most vulnerable”.

This is one of the central claims made by Jeff Radebe – the Minister in the Presidency responsible for planning, monitoring and evaluation – in a lengthy article defending the president’s performance. It followed an attempt by an opposition party to introduce a motion of no confidence against Zuma.

Radebe listed a number of achievements he attributed to the Zuma and the government. “This is not a political stunt,” he wrote, “this is no fiction; this is reality.”

Are his statements based on reality? Africa Check assessed them.

(Note: Radebe’s office failed to respond to several requests for the source material on which he based his claims. A government spokesperson, Phumla Williams, also ignored calls and text messages. We have evaluated the claims by drawing on publicly available data and information.)

The claim: “In 2014, more than 62% of South Africans made their democratic choice to choose a political party of their choice.”

Our verdict: Incorrect

South Africa had a population of around 54-million people in 2014. According to the Independent Electoral Commission, an estimated 31.4-million people were eligible to vote in 2014 but only about 18.4-million people turned up to vote. The ANC garnered 11.4-million votes.

This means that 21% of all South Africans, or 36% of all eligible voters, voted for the ANC. Sixty two percent of all valid votes cast were for the African National Congress.

Economic growth
The claim: “By the fourth quarter of 2014, GDP showed signs of recovery at a 4.1%. What is important, though, is that the real sectors of the economy, namely agriculture, mining, and manufacturing, were positive and actually grew.”

Our verdict: Yes, but…

Radebe is right on the numbers, but the financial quarter he chose to highlight paints a much brighter economic picture than is actually the case.

The deputy governor of the South African Reserve Bank, Francois Groepe, made the distinction in a recent address: “Although the South African economy expanded at a brisk annualised rate of 4.1% in the final quarter of 2014, growth for the full year was a disappointing 1.5% and represents the second-lowest growth rate recorded over the past sixteen years.”

If you look at 2014 as a whole, the mining sector actually contracted by 1.6%, while the manufacturing industry showed no growth. Agriculture did increase by 5.6% percent.

The claim: “Whilst jobs were lost [due to the recession], in 2014 South Africa has actually managed to employ even more people than were employed in the years when jobs were lost, implying that there is recovery.”

Our verdict: Yes, but…

Radebe’s claim only deals with absolute labour statistics, that is, the actual number of people employed. In the fourth quarter of 2008 there were approximately 14.7-million people employed in the South African economy. By the third quarter of 2010 1.1-million jobs had been lost.

Since then employment has increased. The most recent employment statistics show that 15.3-million people were employed in the fourth quarter of 2014.

However, Radebe’s claim is misleading in that the unemployment rate has not recovered to pre-recession levels. Ratios are a better measure than absolute figures, the executive manager of labour statistics at Stats SA, Peter Buwembo, has told Africa Check.

Prior to the recession the narrow unemployment rate was 21.5%. The latest statistics show the unemployment rate was 24.3% at the end of 2014.

Renewable energy
The claim: “Under the stewardship of President Zuma, South Africa has one of the largest renewable energy programmes, ranked among the top 10 in the world.”

Our verdict: Incorrect

According to Kadri Nassiep, chief executve of the state-owned South African National Energy Development Institute, “countries such as China, US and Germany still lead the way in total installed capacity”.

He added that South Africa falls in the top five countries when the size of its renewable energy investment is compared to GDP. Uruguay, Mauritius and Costa Rica topped this ranking in the 2014 Global Status Report, compiled by international renewable network REN21.

South Africa did make the top 10 list for investment in renewable energy in 2012 and 2013. The two most recent reports by Bloomberg New Energy Finance stated that South Africa invested $5.7-billion in renewable energy in 2012 and $4.9-billion in 2013.

China was head and shoulders above the rest: investing $64.7-billion and $54.2-billion in those years. It already has an installed renewable energy capacity of 378GW, whereas South Africa aims for 6.7GW by 2016 and 17.8GW by 2030.

The claim: “The percentage of households connected to the electricity mains increased from 82% to 85%.”

Our verdict: Correct, according to the available data

The 2013 General Household Survey reported that the percentage of households connect to electricity mains increased from 82.7% in 2009 to 85.4% in 2013. The statistics for 2014 will be released around the middle of this year.

The claim: “The percentage of households connected to piped water increased from 88% to 90%.”

Our verdict: Broadly true, but lacking context

The 2013 General Household Survey revealed that 89.9% of households had access to piped water, up from 89% when Zuma took office. Just over 4% of households had to fetch water from rivers, streams, stagnant water pools and dams, wells and springs.

But this one statistic does not provide the full picture about access to water in South Africa. In 2013 a quarter of households reported interruptions to their water supply that lasted more than 2 days at a time or lasted more than 15 days in total.

Households also reported problems with the quality of water they received. In 2013 7.4% of households (1.1-million) felt that their water was not safe to drink, 7.9% that their water was not clear, 8.8% that their water did not taste good whereas just over a million households (6.9%) felt that their water was not free from bad smells.

The claim: “The percentage of households with access to RDP standard sanitation increased from 70% to 78%.”

Our verdict: Broadly true

The 2013 General Household Survey showed that access to RDP standard sanitation increased from 72.4% of households in 2009 to 77.9% of households in 2013. RDP standard sanitation includes flush toilets (either connected to a public sewerage system or a septic tank) or a pit toilet with a ventilation pipe.

In 2013 62% percent of households had access to a flush toilet connected to either the public sewerage system or a septic tank. 15% has access to a pit latrine with a ventilation pipe and 16% has access to a pit latrine without a ventilation pipe.

Four percent of households reported that they did not have access to sanitation of any kind. The survey noted that “the percentage of households that continued to live without proper sanitation facilities had been declining consistently between 2002 and 2013”.

However, the general secretary of the Cape Town based Social Justice Coalition, Phumeza Mlungwana, told Africa Check that Radebe’s numbers lacked important context.

“The claim doesn’t say anything about the condition of the toilet or the experience of using it or whether the toilet is functional and clean,” she said.

For the first time, the 2013 General Household Survey included questions about problems experienced by households that share sanitation facilities. Statistics provided by Stats SA showed that 3 209 048 households (22.4%) reported sharing toilets facilities.

The main problems these households experienced included poor hygiene (25.6%), poor lighting (25.1%), concern about physical safety while using the toilets (22%) and finding the toilet pit or chamber full (21.8%).

The claim: “The percentage of persons aged 20 years and above with no formal education or highest level of education less than Grade 7 within each gender group decreased from 19.3% to 16.2%.”

Our verdict: Correct, according to the available data

The 2013 General Household Survey reported that the percentage of people aged 20 years and older who had no education, or had completed some primary school below grade 7, had decreased from 19.3% in 2009 to 16.2% in 2013.

Life expectancy
The claim: “South Africans now live nine years longer than they did in 2005 due to the roll-out by this government of drugs that prolong life.”

Our verdict: Correct, according to the available data

Radebe’s claim is supported by Stats SA’s 2014 mid-year population estimates. It showed that life expectancy increased by 9.1 years from 52.1 in 2005 to 61.2 years in 2014.

Deputy executive director at the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, Francois Venter, told Africa Check that the general consensus was that life expectancy in South Africa had been driven up by the rollout of antiretroviral therapy.

“If you stop someone from dying in their 20s, 30s and 40s with ARVs, you bump up the average age at death significantly,” he said.

“It is possible other things contributed – fresh water, less under-nutrition, expanded vaccine programmes – but that doesn’t cause such a dramatic change.”

Student aid
The claim: “[The] National Student Financial Aid Scheme increased from R2.4-billion in 2008 to R9.5-billion in 2014.”

Our verdict: Broadly true

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme’s annual reports show that they provided funding worth R2.5-billion in 2008/09.

A spokesman for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, Kagisho Mamabolo, told Africa Check that R9.2-billion worth of funding was provided in 2014. However, this excluded an additional R1-billion which was provided by the Department of Higher Education and Training to cover funding shortfalls in 2013 and 2014.

The scheme provides funding to students that qualify according to a financial means test. Students are required to start repaying their loans once they start earning a salary of R30 000 or more per year, at an initial rate of 3% of their annual salary.

Both students and universities have raised concerns that there is not enough funding to assist financially needy students. Earlier this year Wits University’s Student Representative Council was reported to have raised R2-million to assist students that did not receive funding from the scheme.

The claim: “South Africans benefit from a cocktail of social assistance programmes and services that alleviate poverty and indeed poverty has visibly been reduced since 2000.”

Our verdict: Correct, according to the available data

Research by the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit at the University of Cape Town, among others, showed that poverty as measured by income declined slightly between 1993 and 2012.

To a large degree, the decline could be attributed to state spending on social grants, said Lauren Royston, director of research and capacity at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI).

Another tool whereby poverty can be measured showed an even greater reduction over this period. The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) takes into account more than income. It scores nine factors, such as school enrolment, nutritional levels and access to basic services that include electricity, sanitation and water.

However, the index suffers from two limitations, former SERI researcher Michael Clark pointed out. First, it relies heavily on government statistics. The index also does not measure the quality of basic services.

Despite the decrease achieved, Royston said South Africans must be mindful that poverty remains deep and widespread and that inequality has increased.

State spending
The claim: “South Africans have continued to trust government with their taxes. South Africa’s budget in 1994 was R135.1-billion; by 2004 this had doubled to R370-billion and R834-billion in 2009. The Minister of Finance recently announced a budget of R1.3-trillion. This means that since 2009 we have added more than the equivalent of the entire budget of 2004 and seen a 1 000% increase since 1994.”

Our verdict: Nonsense

This claim is a bit nonsensical as it neither proves nor confirms anything, said the head of Wits University’s School of Economic and Business Sciences, Professor Jannie Rossouw. “One, we are compelled to pay taxes and two, to judge the budget in nominal terms doesn’t tell us much.”

Rossouw said a more useful metric is to compare the budget with the gross national product (GDP) in a particular year. South Africa’s budget comprised 28.9% of GDP in the 1992/93 financial year, the highest this ratio was from 1993 to 2012. Between 2004/05 and 2011/12 it averaged 27.2%. In 2013 the ratio reached 33.2%.

There is a cause for concern when state expenditure grows faster than the economy, said Rossouw, as he has pointed out as co-author of a journal article before. However, state expenditure slowed in the fourth quarter of last year, giving some credence to the state’s promise to curb spending.

This article first appeared on Africa Check.