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Election manifestos: South Africa according to the political parties rivalling the big three

How well do opposition parties, such as ActionSA, Build One South Africa, uMkhonto weSizwe and Congress of the People, understand the country's most pressing issues ahead of polls on 29 May 2024?

  • Out of the 15 claims we checked, the most – three – came from the Congress of the People’s manifesto, and these were all correct, about the percentage of the national budget spent on education, the government’s budget deficit and the number of South Africans connected to the energy grid.  

  • By and large, these smaller parties had their facts and figures correct or mostly correct, except for Build One South Africa, whose two claims, about youth unemployment and grade 1 literacy, we found misleading.

  • The only claim we rated incorrect, about South Africa’s police-to-population ratio, came from the manifesto of the newly formed uMkhonto weSizwe Party.

South Africa goes to the polls in May 2024. In what is predicted to be a major reshaping of the political landscape, a record number of political parties are expected to contest.

Over the past few months, Africa Check has examined the claims made in the election manifestos of the country’s main political parties – the ruling African National Congress, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters

Several other parties are also in the running. In this report, we take a look at the claims they made in their manifestos in key areas of public debate.  

Employment

Party: ActionSA

Claim

“Over 40% of South Africans, or almost 12 million jobseekers, cannot find work.”

Verdict

Correct

Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), the country’s data agency, tracks unemployment in its quarterly labour force survey (QLFS). 

The latest survey covers January to March 2024 and recorded an unemployment rate of 32.9%. 

However, the expanded unemployment rate was recorded at 41.9%. This rate includes discouraged jobseekers and those who had other reasons for not looking for work, such as living too far away from job opportunities. 

According to the expanded definition, 12.1 million people were unemployed.

Party: Build One South Africa (Bosa)

Claim

“We have the highest youth unemployment in the world.”

Verdict

Misleading

There is no standard global definition of “youth”. This can complicate comparisons of youth unemployment across countries.

For example, South Africa’s National Youth Commission Act defines the youth as people aged from 14 to 35. But Stats SA’s labour force surveys collect data on youth in two categories: 15 to 24 and 25 to 34. 

International organisations, such as the United Nations (UN), generally consider the youth to be people aged from 15 to 24

South Africa ranks high, but comparisons should be cautiously made

From January to March 2024, the unemployment rate for youth aged 15 to 24 was 59.7%. For the 25 to 34 age group, the rate was 40.7%. 

The International Labour Organization (ILO), a United Nations agency, compiles annual unemployment statistics for 189 countries, territories and areas of the world. Its estimates provide data on youth aged 15 to 24. 

Data for 2023 shows Djibouti, a country in East Africa, had the highest unemployment rate for this age group, at 76.9%. South Africa ranked second with 50.5%, followed by Libya (48.8%), eSwatini (47.3%) and Botswana (43.6%).

While South Africa ranked very highly, comparisons across countries should be made with caution.

The ILO has said that countries “vary somewhat in their operational definitions” of youth and that these differences “have implications for comparability”. 

Vera Rosauer, a spokesperson for the World Bank, previously told Africa Check that timing was also a factor. “Cross-country comparisons are not easy given the different points in time that national surveys are conducted. For this reason, we would discourage cross-country comparisons,” she said.

Party: uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) Party

Claim

“Over 42% of black South Africans were unemployed in the first three months of 2023, while the jobless rate is only 7.5% among white people.”

Verdict

Mostly Correct

From January to March 2023, the unemployment rate among black South Africans was 37.2%, according to Stats SA’s quarterly labour force survey for that period. For white South Africans, the rate was 7.5%

More recent data has since become available. From January to March 2024,  the unemployment rate among black South Africans was 36.9%. The rate for white South Africans was 9.2%. 

While the party inflated its claim about unemployed black South Africans, its broader point is accurate. According to Stats SA, unemployment rates among black South Africans have been consistently higher than for other groups over the past 10 years.

Education

Party:  ActionSA

Claim

“The number of matriculants completing their schooling with a bachelor’s pass is on the rise.”

Verdict

Mostly Correct

South Africa’s high school leaving qualification, formally the national senior certificate (NSC), is known as matriculation, usually shortened to “matric”.

A bachelor's pass allows a matriculant to attend a university that offers bachelor’s degrees. 

According to Stats SA, “possessing a tertiary education, especially a degree, enhances one's likelihood of securing employment”. 

While the percentage of matriculants with bachelor’s passes has fluctuated over the years, the general trend is upwards.

ReportInsert

Source: Department of Basic Education, 2023 NSC Diagnostic Report

In 2013, 30.6% of matriculants obtained bachelor passes. This figure fell to 25.8% in 2015 but rose again between 2016 (26.6%) and 2019 (36.9%). he class of 2023 had the highest bachelor pass rate in the last decade, at 40.9%.

Party: Bosa

Claim

“Recent studies have shown that less than half of children know the alphabet by the end of grade 1.”

Verdict

Misleading

Bosa did not respond to a request for the source of this claim. We will update this report should we hear back.

But a similar claim can be found in a media release from the South African policy research and advocacy organisation, the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE). It says that “after a year of school more than 50% of grade 1 learners don’t know all the letters in the alphabet”, but doesn't give an attribution for the statistic. 

Africa Check asked the CDE for the source and was referred to a 2023 publication by the 2030 Reading Panel. This high profile body meets annually to assess progress towards the country’s 2030 education goals.

According to the report, research suggests that children begin to struggle with letter-sound knowledge as early as grade 1. This is based on a 2022 study conducted in 230 no-fee schools in South Africa’s North West province. 

We contacted Dr Gabrielle Wills, an education economist and one of the authors of the study, for more information. She said that Bosa’s claim was “only partially correct”. This was because the study’s findings were drawn from samples that were not nationally representative. 

“We documented letter-sound knowledge among samples of learners in no-fee charging schools in two provinces, namely the Eastern Cape and North West. We found that just 48% and 39% of these samples respectively could sound at least 26 letters correct per minute by the end of grade 1.” 

“A more correct phrasing of the statement from Bosa would be: ‘Among samples of learners from no-fee charging schools in two provinces, less than half of children knew the alphabet by the end of grade 1.’,” Wills said.

No nationally representative study

Dr Janeli Kotzé, acting director of early childhood development at the Department of Basic Education, said she was “not aware of any nationally representative studies that have been done to assess children at the end of grade 1”. 

Wills also confirmed that there was no nationally representative study on foundational reading skills, such as letter-sound knowledge. However, she said, early grade reading data from more than 40,000 South African students in no-fee charging schools in five provinces indicated slow and low mastery of basic decoding skills in grades 1 to 3. 

Party: Congress of the People (Cope)

Claim

“24% of the national budget is spent on education.”

Verdict

Correct

South Africa’s budget is divided into national, provincial, and local (or, municipal) allocations. It works on a three-year rolling period, known as the medium-term expenditure framework (MTEF), and provides the current year’s allocation along with estimated allocations for the following two years.

Africa Check contacted the National Treasury to confirm how much of the budget is allocated to education. 

The department said that the education sector is made up of basic education at the national and provincial levels, and post-school education and training at the national level.

“Over the 2024 MTEF, spending on the education sector is estimated at 23.8% of total consolidated expenditure for this period,” the treasury said. That is, 16.6% for basic education and 7.2% for post school education and training. 

This was a slight increase from the budget allocation in the 2023 MTEF - 23.7%.  

The allocation for education is among the largest in the budget. 

Economy

Party: United Democratic Movement (UDM)

Claim

“South Africa’s debt-to-GDP ratio stands at 73.6% (R5.84 trillion).”

Verdict

Mostly Correct

The size of a country’s economy is generally given by its gross domestic product (GDP), which is the total value of all goods and services produced in the country during a given period, usually a year.

A debt-to-GDP ratio compares what a country owes to what it produces. It is used to estimate a country’s financial health.

Defaulting on debt can cause “financial panic” within and outside a country. When this happens, it makes future borrowing more difficult and expensive, and slows economic growth and foreign investment.

According to the treasury, South Africa’s debt-to-GDP ratio for 2023/24 is 73.9%, or R5.21 trillion. 

The UDM claimed a close enough ratio, but was less accurate about the rand value of the debt. In 2023, South Africa’s finance minister predicted that debt would reach R5.84 trillion by 2025/56, but this is not the current figure.  

70% ratio verges on an upper limit

What this ratio means for the economy is not entirely agreed. Prof Waldo Krugell, from the North-West University’s economics department, told Africa Check that while such figures were often used as a rule of thumb, they were controversial. Research suggests that higher debt levels are generally associated with lower growth, but this is also influenced by several other factors. 

According to Frank Blackmore, lead economist at financial firm KPMG, “each country’s unique circumstances and revenue-generating potential determine different debt levels that are deemed normal or acceptable”. 

This meant that this indicator alone was not enough to conclude anything about a country’s overall financial standing, he said. 

But for South Africa specifically, this ratio of around 70% was seen as bordering on an “upper limit”, Blackmore said, because while South Africa could increase borrowing to fund various projects that lead to economic growth, the country could not afford to maintain more debt than it currently had. 

On the other hand, he explained, Japan’s notoriously high debt-to-GDP ratio of over 200% was seen as “more creditworthy” because it was better equipped to repay those debts. 

Party: Cope

Claim

“Over many years, the ANC-led government has registered a budget deficit.”

Verdict

Correct

A budget deficit is a negative financial balance that reflects “the amount government has to borrow to cover the gap between spending and revenue”.  It is another indicator used to assess the financial health of a country.

The total or consolidated budget deficit, as reported by the National Treasury for 2023/24, was R-347.4 billion. National budget reporting shows that a negative balance has been the norm since 2007/08, following a three-year period in which total spending was lower than revenue.

Bloomberg, the US financial news and media company, reported in May 2024 that the country was estimated to have achieved one kind of surplus. For the first time in 15 years, preliminary data from the treasury reportedly showed that the country recorded a primary surplus (0.4% of GDP) in the financial year ending March. 

Krugell told Africa Check that this surplus only took into account current tax income and spending, and excluded interest repayments on debt. But achieving this primary budget surplus would mean more funds could be used to repay debt rather than pay interest, reducing the country’s overall debt burden.   

Party: African Transformation Movement

Claim

“South Africa has the second-largest economy in Africa.”

Verdict

Mostly Correct

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) publishes its World Economic Outlook twice a year, which analyses the economic situation around the world. The survey includes a range of statistics based on data from specific countries, including estimates of GDP. 

Because currencies vary between countries, a common currency such as the US dollar is used for GDP comparisons, the IMF explains

Using the dollar as the common currency, in current prices, the IMF lists Egypt as having the highest GDP in 2023 at US$393.9 billion, followed by South Africa at $377.7 billion and Nigeria at $374.9 billion.

The IMF calculates GDP using data from countries, as well as estimates from partial data and observed trends. This means that some GDP figures represent actual observed data, while others are estimates or projections of what a country’s GDP is likely to be in the future. 

The most recent data for Egypt is from 2023, and 2022 for Nigeria and South Africa, with later statistics being estimates or forecasts. These are marked with an asterisk in the table below. 

In 2022, Nigeria had the largest GDP, followed by Egypt and South Africa. 

In the projected ranking for 2024, South Africa has the largest GDP.

Purchasing power parity

A number of factors need to be considered when comparing GDP between countries. First, projecting future GDP values is complicated and forecasts are often over- or underestimates. The IMF notes that even when actual data is provided, these may be revised later as more data becomes available or calculation methods change. 

Directly comparing GDP between countries also doesn’t account for purchasing power – what a given amount of money can buy in a particular country. 

To overcome this, economists also use “purchasing power parity”(PPP), adjusting amounts to account for price differences between countries. Using this adjustment, the IMF’s GDP ranking for the 2024 projection stays the same, with South Africa at the top. But for earlier years, Egypt consistently ranks first, followed by Nigeria and South Africa. 

It should also be noted, though, that PPP estimates have their own shortcomings. They involve complex calculations that may introduce inaccuracies, and they can overestimate the economic strength of low-income countries. 

As for which metric to use, KPMG economist Frank Blackmore told Africa Check that both PPP-adjusted values and market prices could be used to compare economies, and that one wasn’t necessarily more accurate than the other. 

South Africa did rank second in Africa for GDP in 2023, with the caveat that this is an estimate, and only when looking at market prices. 

Crime

Party: Patriotic Alliance (PA)

Claim

“Only 15% of murders in South Africa are solved.”

Verdict

Mostly Correct

The ability of the South African Police Service (SAPS) to solve murders is reflected in its detection rate. According to Gareth Newham, head of the justice and violence prevention programme at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria, the detection rate for murder reflects the percentage of case dockets that are closed, out of all the murder cases opened in a given year. 

In 2023, Newham wrote that a case was closed as detected “once an investigation has either identified the likely perpetrator, the case is withdrawn, or it has been established that no crime actually took place”. 

According to the latest annual report from the SAPS, the murder detection rate in 2022/23 was 12.48%. This was down from 14.5% the year before, which was closer to the rate the PA claimed.

Newham told Africa Check that despite budget increases, the SAPS murder detection rate for 2022/23 reflected a more than 60% decline in the police’s ability to solve murders since 2012, when the rate was 31%. He attributed this to weaknesses in leadership and political oversight. 

Party: MK Party

Claim

“The ratio of one police officer for every 242 citizens in a population is alarmingly low.”

Verdict

Incorrect

The police-to-population ratio reflects the number of police officers compared to the number of people in a country’s population. 

While it is sometimes used as an indicator of the overall functioning of a police force, experts have said that police performance is unlikely to have much to do with this ratio.

Instead, as the ISS has previously told Africa Check, other aspects of policing play a far bigger role. “It’s not about numbers, it’s about strategy, it’s about having a clear crime plan,” according to the ISS. 

Despite this, the police to population ratio is frequently quoted in the media.

The SAPS annual report for 2022/23 recorded 179,502 total employees or 147,622 excluding administrative staff. Statistics from the latest census show that South Africa’s population was 62,027,503 in 2022. 

If the total number of SAPS employees is used, the ratio is one officer for every 334 people. Excluding administrative staff, who don’t count as police officers, the ratio is one officer for every 407 people. 

While this ratio is even lower than MK’s claim, it is of limited usefulness, according to Mark Shaw, director of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, who has previously confirmed that there is no recommended ratio. 

Party: Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus)

Claim

“South Africa’s murder rate is currently the second highest in the world.”

Verdict

Correct

A murder rate is the number of people murdered in a given period, per 100,000 people in a population. 

While murder rates markedly declined from 1994 onwards, the trend reversed around 2011, and rates have climbed to heights only previously seen during the turmoil of South Africa’s transition to democracy.

But there are problems with comparing most data between countries and murder is no different. “Governments don’t all record and calculate murder similarly”, the ISS says. The quality of data or how recent it is can vary substantially, and in some places, murder statistics are not released. 

These important caveats considered, the available data does support the claim that South Africa’s murder rate is the second highest in the world. 

In their analysis of data from 2022, the ISS concluded that South Africa’s rate of 45 murders per 100,000 people was second only to Jamaica’s rate of 53. Other countries that top the list are Venezuela (43), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (40), and Honduras (36).

Housing, electricity and sanitation

Party: Inkatha Freedom Party

Claim

“Millions of South Africans still live in shacks and informal settlements.”

Verdict

Correct

Stats SA collects information on the living conditions of households in its general household survey (GHS). It defines an informal dwelling as a “makeshift structure not erected according to approved architectural plans”. This includes shacks or shanties in informal settlements or backyards.

Analysis of the 2022 GHS, the latest available, found that at least 5 million people lived in informal dwellings. A further 83,654 lived in caravans, tents or other forms of shelter.

The GHS data is based on a sample of about 30,000 households. Although this may seem like a small sample, Stats SA’s service delivery statistics manager Niël Roux previously told Africa Check that it was large enough to provide an accurate snapshot of the country as a whole.

Party: Cope

Claim

“Just under 90% of the population is connected to the energy grid.”

Verdict

Correct

Stats SA’s latest GHS directly asked whether a household was connected to mains electricity. In 2022, this figure was 89.6%. It ranged from as low as 83.1% in Gauteng province to 96.4% in Limpopo.

Roux said that the percentage of people, rather than households, with access to mains electricity was 93.6%, or 57.4 million people.

This data will soon be superseded by the release of the 2023 GHS, expected on 23 May 2024.

The percentage of the population with access to electricity was, however, slightly higher than Cope claimed. Roux said: “Our definition of mains access requires a dwelling to have an electrical meter/box. Many households, however, tap electricity legally or illegally from neighbours, landlords or city infrastructure and they will not be classified as having access to mains electricity since they are not directly connected to it although they might be using it.”

Party: FF Plus

Claim

“South Africa is losing billions of litres of water because water infrastructure is not maintained.”

Verdict

Mostly Correct

South Africa’s Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) publishes annual estimates of water loss in its No Drop report. The report includes a “water balance” for the country – an estimate of how all municipal water in the country was used.

The 2023 No Drop report, the latest available, found that around 1.79 trillion litres of water (40.8% of the total) was “lost”. 

A water balance is drawn up based on International Water Association guidelines using meters installed in the water system. Ayesha Laher, water scientist and director of water management consultancy AHL Water, told Africa Check that it was a good way for water service authorities to understand how much water there was and where the losses were but that more investigation was required to determine the causes of the loss.

For example, the 1.79 trillion litres counted as “water losses” in South Africa’s water balance were broken up into “real losses” and “apparent losses”. 

“The apparent losses are the ones where we don’t know what is happening,” Laher said. “Those are usually quite small because those would be attributed to errors in determining how much water is delivered, errors in metering accuracy, incorrect readings and things like that.” 

The remaining “real” losses would include leaks due to poor maintenance or ageing infrastructure. However, determining the exact cause would require further investigation by each municipality.

Detailed assessments needed 

Laher said that each municipality needed to combine its water balance with inspections of its infrastructure and water network. “If it’s lack of maintenance it’s very difficult to determine that just by looking at the water losses … the only way you can identify the root cause of your water losses is if you do a detailed assessment of what the lifespan of your assets are.”  

If the assets had passed their lifespan, they needed to be replaced, she said.  

Even counting only real losses, South Africa loses billions of litres of water every year. The No Drop report’s national water balance deals with such large volumes that it measures water in billions of cubic metres – equivalent to trillions of litres – and real losses account for 1.41 trillion litres of the total. 

In his foreword to the report, DWS director-general Dr Sean Phillips “notes the decline in water loss management practices, lack of metering, and poor infrastructure maintenance in majority of the municipalities”.

However, determining exactly how much water is lost and why is difficult. Laher said this problem was intensified by the fact that many municipalities did not draw up thorough water balances or do regular infrastructure inspections. According to the No Drop report, an assessment conducted between 2011 and 2021 “suggests that about 45% of municipalities cannot provide basic information such as monthly consumption figures”.

With better monitoring practices, tackling the causes of water loss would be straightforward, said Laher.

This report is produced as part of the work of a South African election coalition. In the run-up to the 2024 national elections, the coalition aims to ensure that the claims made by those in charge of state resources and delivering essential services are factually accurate. As voters head to the polls, it is increasingly important that they are able to make informed decisions.

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