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Is SA worse off now than 19 years ago? The facts behind THAT Facebook post

Comments 13

A Facebook post that went viral in recent weeks made a series of claims about how South Africa has changed since 1994. Africa Check tested the evidence.

Researched by Kate Wilkinson and Sintha Chiumia

Earlier this month a list of 16 claims about South Africa under the African National Congress – all of them negative – began doing the rounds on Facebook. Within days the list had attracted more than 2,000 comments, been “liked” 1,600 times and had been shared on the Facebook pages of more than 12,000 people.

The list appears to be a shortened version of a blog post published on 8 May 2013 which derisively referred to the “the ANC’s list of achievements”.

A version of the list also appears to have been circulated via email. In August 2013, Business Day reported that a Democratic Alliance councillor in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, Stanford Slabbert, had been expelled from the party after forwarding an “offensive and racist” email that included some of the claims contained in the blog post.

So what are the facts? Is there any truth to the claims? Africa Check readers asked us to investigate.

Has unemployment in South Africa increased by 60% in the past 19 years?

False. The official unemployment rate in 1994, as recorded by Statistics South Africa, was approximately 20%. The most recent 2013 quarterly labour force survey reported an unemployment rate of 24.7%.

It has been argued that Statistics South Africa uses a very narrow definition of “unemployment” which includes only people who are unemployed but actively seeking work. Statistics South Africa says it uses an internationally accepted definition of unemployment – the same definition used by the United Nations International Labour Organisation (ILO).

In addition, Statistics SA calculates 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.

Calculations using the expanded rate put unemployment at 31.5% in 1994 and 35.6% between July and September 2013.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Kwazulu-Natal suggests that the broader definition “provides a better reflection of the relationship between labour supply and labour demand in the South African labour market than the strict, or official, rate of unemployment”.

But Martin Wittenberg, a professor of economics at the University of Cape Town, argues that both the narrow and broader definitions have their uses.  “The broad definition is more useful if one is thinking about the scale of the social problem, while the narrow definition is more appropriate if you want to do international comparisons”.

Does South Africa have one of the highest unemployment rates in the world?

True. South Africa’s unemployment rate is certainly high when compared to many countries. The latest statistics put South Africa’s unemployment rate at 24.7%, which is at the high end, though differing definitions of “unemployment” and a lack of reliable data makes comparisons between countries extremely difficult.

The International Monetary Fund, for example, is one of a number of organisations that monitors unemployment rates. In some cases, where data is unavailable, it provides estimates. According to the IMF’s most recent figures, South Africa has the sixth highest unemployment rate behind Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Greece and Spain.

However many African countries are not included in IMF figures and anecdotal evidence suggests unemployment levels across the continent are high. In Zimbabwe, for example, President Robert Mugabe’s party claims unemployment is “hovering around 60 percent”.

Is South Africa the rape capital of the world?

Unsubstantiated. The claim is often attributed to Interpol. However, the organisation told Africa Check that they have never made that claim. “Unfortunately these false reports have been repeated by various media, without verification with Interpol,” Interpol’s General Secretariat said in an email.

South Africa certainly has shockingly high levels of rape. The latest crime statistics show that there were 95 reported cases of rape for every 100,000 people.

However Lizette Lancaster, manager of the Institute for Security Studies crime and justice information hub, told Africa Check that with regards to rape: “No international comparisons will be accurate”. A high number of rape cases go unreported and differing definitions of rape make comparisons impossible. “In other countries, for instance, rape of spouses is not an offence but it is in South Africa,” Lancaster said.

Is South Africa’s education department ranked 140th out of 144 countries?

False. South Africa’s education department is not ranked 140th out of 144 countries. This ranking refers to the World Economic Forum’s global information technology report which ranked the quality of South Africa’s education system 140th out of 144 countries. It received a score of 2.2 out of a possible seven. However, the ranking system offers little insight into the quality of any country’s education system.

Martin Gustafsson, a researcher in the economics department at Stellenbosch University, told Africa Check that the report does not make use of any standardised testing in producing the ranking. “In the case of South Africa, six respondents, all from the business sector, are asked to rate the quality of education along a seven-point scale from very good to very poor,” he said.

The ratings are therefore subjective and drawn from a small pool, with no effort made to cross-reference ratings so as to compare countries properly.

Africa Check has previously looked at claims that South Africa has the worst education system in Africa. But the available data shows that while South Africa lags behind a number of African countries including Kenya and Swaziland, there are many with worse education systems.

Is South Africa the country where the most car hijackings take place?

Unsubstantiated. South Africa’s latest crime statistics show that 9,990 cars and 943 trucks were hijacked in 2012/13. However, Africa Check was unable to find recent comparative data on car hijackings around the world.

With regard to car theft, South Africa doesn’t have the highest number of cases in the world. In 2011/2012, nearly 60,000 cars and motor cycles were reported stolen in South Africa, while just over half a million cars were reported stolen in the United States of America, giving the US a higher rate of car theft per head of population.

Is South Africa one of the ‘top ten’ countries with the highest murder rates?

Probably true. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) provides homicide statistics from 1995 to 2011. According to the 2011 data, South Africa – with 15,609 murders – was ranked fourth out of 84 countries assessed. India, with 42,923 murders, was ranked first, followed by Brazil with 42,785 murders and  Mexico with 27,199.

However, comparing countries using the total number of murders fails to take into account varying population sizes. South Africa has a population of about 53-million. India, by comparison, has a population of 1,2-billion so the higher number of murders there is to be expected.

To accurately assess crime figures across populations it has become standard international practice for crime data to be presented, not only in raw or total numbers, but in ratios. Normally these are expressed as the number of crimes committed per 100,000 people.

In 2011, South Africa’s murder rate was 30.9 per 100,000 people. On this basis, according to the UNODC data, it was ranked eighth out of the 84 countries assessed. Honduras was ranked first with a murder rate of 91.6 murders per 100,000 people.

According to the Institute for Security Studies, the murder rate in South Africa in 1994 was 66.9 murders per 100,000 people.

Gareth Newham, head of the governance, crime and justice division at the Institute, told Africa Check that the Facebook post ignores the fact that in the past 19 years, the murder rate has more than halved.

Recent crime statistics, however, show a reversal in the downward trend with  worrying increases in the numbers of murders and other violent crimes in the 2012/2013 financial year.

Does South Africa have the most corrupt government in the world?

False. There are few international rankings for corruption and those that are available have not escaped criticism. But the available rankings, suggest that South Africa’s government is not the most corrupt in the world.

In 2012, Transparency International, a non-governmental organisation that monitors public and private corruption, ranked Somalia the most corrupt out of the 174 countries on its corruption perception index. It scored 8 out of a possible 100 points. South Africa is ranked 69th on the index, with a score of 43.

The World Bank produces annual worldwide governance indicators. In 2012, South Africa’s control of corruption was ranked 113th out of 210 countries.

Does South Africa have ten times more people in squatter camps than in 1994?

False. The first post-apartheid census was held in 1996. It recorded that there were 1,453,015 households in informal settlements across South Africa. The 2011 census revealed that this number had increased to 1,963,096 households. Using this data, there are 1.4 times more people living in informal settlements than there were in 1996 – not ten times.

Does South Africa have 1000% more illegal immigrants than it did in 1994?

Unlikely. Professor Loren Landau, director of the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand, told Africa Check that it is impossible to accurately estimate how many undocumented migrants are currently in South Africa. “Anyone who claims to know how many there are is lying,” he said.

He recommended using census data on the number of foreign-born nationals in South Africa to determine how this demographic has grown.

The 1996 census revealed that 958,187 people living in South Africa were born outside of the country. The 2011 census revealed that 4.5% – or about 2.3-million – of the country’s 51.7-million people were born outside of South African.  This amounts to an increase of 238% over the fifteen year period – not 1000%.

It is unclear how many of those surveyed for the census were illegal immigrants but Statistics South Africa has stated in a 2011 discussion document that “[s]ince a census is a total count of all persons in the country (at a given point in time), it is expected that all types of immigrants (including illegal/irregular immigrants) will be enumerated.”

Does South Africa have the largest number of convicted criminals in its parliament?

False. The Democratic Alliance manages a “crooked comrades monitor”, an “archive of those people appointed to key positions in the public service in spite of a dubious track record which suggests them unfit for public office”. It lists nine current members of parliament that have criminal convictions. However, Michael Mpofu, a Democratic Alliance research and communications officer, told Africa Check that he was unsure how recently it had been updated.

Neither Luzuko Jacobs, the head of the parliamentary communication service, or parliamentary secretary Michael Coetzee, responded to questions.

In 2006, The Telegraph newspaper reported that “Italy is…served by 25 MPs who have criminal convictions, the highest number ever recorded”. Last year Italy passed a law which rendered politicians convicted of serious criminal offences ineligible to stand for parliament.

In July 2013, The Times of India reported that 1,460 of India’s 4,807 sitting members of parliament and the legislative assembly have declared being the accused in criminal cases.

Are 25% of South African schoolgirls HIV positive?

False. Africa Check debunked this claim in March 2013. An article in South Africa’s Sowetan newspaper had reported incorrectly that “[a]t least 28% of schoolgirls are HIV positive while only 4% of young boys are infected with the virus in the country”.

The most recent study reveals that HIV prevalence among young women aged between 15 and 19 is around 12.7%.

Did South African schoolgirls have 100,000 abortions last year?

False. In November 2013, South Africa’s health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, told parliament that between April 2012 and March 2013 there were 82,920 legal abortions in public hospitals. He did not make clear how many of the patients could be classed as schoolgirls. But a 2010/11 annual school survey suggested that 36,702 pupils fell pregnant that year.

In 19 years has the rand weakened from R3.41 to R10.00 to the dollar?

True. The South African Reserve Bank keeps historical records of the rand-dollar exchange rate. On 3 January 1994, the rand was trading at R3.40 to the dollar. At the time of publishing this report is was trading at R10.23 to the dollar.

Did the petrol price go from R1.73 to R12.83 per litre in the past 19 years?

True. The department of energy’s records show that in February 1994 the petrol price ranged from R1.64 to R1.75 per litre.  Today a litre of unleaded petrol will cost you between R12.60 and R13.02.

Bloomberg Gas Price Ranking, released in September 2013, ranked 61 countries on their petrol price, the earnings needed to buy a gallon of petrol and the annual income spent on fuel. South Africa was ranked 42nd with an average price of $4.94 per gallon of petrol (just over R50 for 3.8 litres). By comparison, a gallon of petrol in India costs on average $4.74.

Claims we couldn’t check

Africa Check was unable to fact check the claims that South Africa’s defence force is a “laughing stock” and that the country’s “roads, railways, military, police, municipal services, old age homes, hospitals and orphanages have literally fallen apart and are worth nothing anymore”. The claims are broad generalisations and statements of opinion, not fact.

Conclusion – Only four of the claims were true or possibly true

While many of the claims in the blog post and Facebook post appeared to be questionable, that didn’t prevent over 12,000 people sharing them. Out of the 14 claims that Africa Check examined, only four were true or probably true.

Edited by Julian Rademeyer

This report was updated on 29 November 2013 to clarify aspects around unemployment figures in South Africa.

© Copyright Africa Check 2013. You may reproduce this report or content from it for the purpose of reporting and/or discussing news and current events, subject to providing a credit to "Africa Check a non-partisan organisation which promotes accuracy in public debate and the media. Twitter @AfricaCheck and www.africacheck.org".

Comment on this report

Comments 13
  1. By RRose

    Considering that I do not know of a single person who was reached by the statistics collectors in our farming community, no one can trust the statistics gathered in our country. I certainly don’t!

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  2. By David Edwards

    I just wish the truth traveled as fast and as far as a false claim or negative statement. David.

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  3. By Bradley Preston

    On the claim that the road network is falling apart, the national roads agency reports on the quality of the national road network under their control e.g http://www.nra.co.za/live/click.php?u=//sanral.ensight-cdn.com/content/Roads_Condition_report_November_2013.pdf&o=Item%2B220&v=ca67c1. According to Sanral every km of this network is under a maintenance contract with private sector firms with a SLA that requires that any potholes be repaired with in 48hrs of reporting. Hardly falling apart and worth nothing.

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  4. By Andre

    One of the aspects that may require deeper analysis is the unemployment rate. It is my understanding ( and I may be wrong), that one of the major changes between 1994 and currently, is the definition Stats SA uses to define an person that is unemployed. Currently, a person who does not have a job and who have not actively seek employment in the week/s before the survey, is not considered “unemployed”. The impact of this is that the 1994 rate includes all those without a job, where the latest survey exclude those without a job and who have given up actively seeking employment.

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  5. By Africa Check

    Thanks for the comment Sebastian. The purpose of this piece is to check the claims made in the Facebook and blog posts. Nothing more. Both those posts made references to South Africa in an international context, hence the comparisons to other countries. This is not an overview of South Africa after 19 years of democracy.

    There was no attempt to “hide” anything. The real numbers, in many instances, are worrying enough without an international context. But in order to properly tackle the challenges that South Africa faces it is important to have accurate information. Facebook and blog posts that make sweeping and sometimes utterly false claims are a distraction from the real issues.

    Like you we are also interested in what progress South Africa is making and whether the systems that are in place are working. If you read some of our other reports, you will see that we have monitored some of those systems and tracked promises by politicians including President Jacob Zuma.

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  6. By Lindile Sithebe

    Thank you for dispelling some of these ‘myths’.

    What is shocking is that; these people call themselves ‘educated’, but they keep feeding each other all these lies and they don’t even bother to double check the information.

    This is what I always tell anyone willing to listen: there are over 50 million South Africans in this country. If the majority of South Africans were as bad as we are being made out to be – there’d be no ‘minority’ races to speak of.

    This should be the most confusing situation to these ‘highly educated’ people because – South Africa is thriving under the ‘uneducated/primitive’ rule. So in the absence of a civil war and chaos, they dream up all these crazy things and present them as ‘facts’. This is why the majority of South Africans do not believe anything published in the newspapers.

    South Africa is not about to descend into a chaotic, ungovernable country. Our independence took long to be achieved because EVERYTHING had to be taken into consideration and thought through.

    Remember how long the CODESA negotiations took? It was so that we can live in peace long after independence.

    This country belongs to each one of us – that’s how it was meant to be and that is how it will stay – get used to it.

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  7. By Sebastian

    Just because some of these claims weren’t completely true does not make the correct statistics okay. We have a serious problem and things are not getting better and people need to admit that in order for us to move forward. I especially like the unemployment one, it works on households, not people. Perhaps they should actually look at that to get an accurate indication. One household could after all have 10 unemployed people.
    Lastly my main issue is that the title indicates a comparison between now and 19 years ago but the majority of the information is comparative to other countries, was this done deliberately to hide how bad things in our country has gotten over 19 years? We don’t care what other countries are doing, we are however interested in what progress we are making and are the systems that are in place working.

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  8. By Stuart

    Ok. Though if I said “crime has increased 20%” and you said “yes but the population has also increased 20%, so the rate has stayed the same” that would be sensible. But it wouldn’t be an incorrect fact to say crime has increased 20%. That applies to the unemployed claim in the racist meme. It is not an incorrect fact to state “unemployment has increased 60%”. Your response should not be “that is factually inacccurate”. It should rather be “that stat is not meaningful, because you need to consider the rate, not the absolute number”.

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  9. By Africa Check

    Thanks Stuart.

    We elected to use the unemployment rate because it takes population growth into account. Comparing the total number of unemployed people in 1996 and 2011 ignores the fact that South Africa’s population grew by over 11-million people.

    The same is true of comparing crime over different time periods. Incidences of crime will increase as a population grows. Using a crime rate takes this population change into account and makes comparison possible.

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  10. By Stuart

    Hi guys, great to blow this racist drivel out of the water.

    But one correction. The first point that “unemployment has grown by 60%” did not read “the unemployment rate has grown by 60%”. So it does not contradict the statement to point to the unemployment rate. In fact the number of unemployed persons has grown from 5m in 1994 to 8.44m in latest StatsSA figures. So that is an increase of 68% in unemployed persons. We could quibble over whether the noun “unemployment” refers to a rate or an absolute number, though generally words ending in -ment refer to the state of affairs when its verb route is enacted (“to unemploy”, “to amuse”, “to embarrass”, etc) which implies number rather than rate.

    The last point on the list implies that the first point was talking about an absolute number rather than a rate, because that claim is about the rate. And “among the worst in the world” is a claim that even very progressive writers would agree with.

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  11. By Africa Check

    Thanks for the comment Llewellyn. As we have shown, many of the claims contained in the Facebook post and the blog post are entirely unsubstantiated, false and are not supported by the available data. The posts themselves provide absolutely no sourcing for the claims made.

    We would disagree that we were excessively dependent on Statistics South Africa data. That data was used in only four of the 14 claims that we fact-checked. Interestingly, the Stats SA data, together with the IMF’s numbers, actually supports the claim that SA has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the world.

    Crime statistics are certainly problematic which is why we consulted the Institute for Security Studies on the data. We have done a great deal of work on crime statistics and examining the accuracy of crime statistics. See these reports:

    http://africacheck.org/reports/factsheet-south-africas-official-crime-statistics-for-201213/
    http://africacheck.org/reports/factsheet-crime-statistics-in-south-africa/
    http://africacheck.org/2013/09/22/the-politics-of-crime-statistics-2/
    http://africacheck.org/2013/09/19/where-murder-happens-in-sa/

    We would agree that there is certainly a need for better and more openly available data in South Africa and one of the facets of this project is to campaign for that.

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  12. By Llewellyn

    This is interesting, very interesting. But I’m concerned about your excessive dependence on the suspect and politically slanted data emanating from Statistics SA. It is neither an independent nor a particularly accurate outfit for gathering information for so-called “national” debate.

    Where you mention other sources, they are interesting and, in one or two cases, rather convincing. If you are prepared – and confident – to debunk data from the WEF, the same must be said of StatsSA, with huge brass knobs on. Furthermore, the periodic crime statistics have been under a huge shadow since the late 1990s when the underlying methodology of data gathering (crime reports by blurred and overlapping categories and from outdated regional reports) was convincingly rejected by all the country’s serious crime-fighting organisations. This year proved no different.It is also a fact that crime stats are heavily redacted by the police and justice ministers and their underlings.

    Maybe what would be really useful would be an independent and trustworthy research project on where the most reliable statistical data can be found.

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  13. By Jarrod Hart

    I would be interested to see the car-jacking rate normalised by car owner, not per head of population. Car ownership is far, far higher in the US (~0.8 vehicles per person vs ~0.16 for SA), which means a driver in SA may be more likely to suffer a car-jacking than one in the USA. Source: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IS.VEH.NVEH.P3

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