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Fact-checked: Pres Cyril Ramaphosa's first-ever State of the Nation Address

This article is more than 6 years old

New South African president Cyril Ramaphosa was afforded calm and plenty of cheers as he delivered his first state of the nation address. Did he seize the moment? Africa Check wasted little time in putting his claims under the microscope.


“The matric pass rate increased from 60.6 percent in 2009 to 75.1 percent last year."



In 2009, minister of basic education, Angie Motshekga, announced that South Africa’s matric pass rate was 60.6%. The most recent pass rate, from 2017, was 75.1%.  Kate Wilkinson

GUIDE: Assessing South Africa’s schooling system


“There are currently almost one million students who are enrolled in higher education, up from 500,000 in 1994.”



In 1994, there were 525,000 students enrolled in higher education institutions in South Africa. This included students at historically black universities and technikons, historically white universities and technikons and distance providers.

The latest audited data on higher education enrollment in South Africa is for 2015. It shows that there were 985,212 students enrolled in 26 public higher education institutions. - Kate Wilkinson

FACTSHEET: Funding & the changing face of SA’s public universities


“The Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative programme continues to deliver modern facilities to our schools... with at least 187 schools being completed to date."



The department of basic education replaces unsafe and “inappropriate” school structures under the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (Asidi) programme which started in 2011.

The most recent data from the department shows that 187 schools have been completed under the programme. It has fallen far behind its targets, however.

In 2011, the programme identified 496 schools that were considered “inappropriate structures” and needed to be replaced by March 2014. These included schools built from mud.

The first 50 schools were meant to be replaced in 2011/12, followed by 100 schools in 2012/13 and 346 schools in 2013/14.

Ramaphosa promised that the programme “will complete all outstanding projects by the end of the next financial year”, which would be 31 March 2019.  Kate Wilkinson

READ: Where are the receipts for 795 schools Zuma says SA government built?


“Our state employs some one million public servants.”



Between 2001/02 and 2011/12, employment in South Africa’s national and provincial departments grew rapidly. It peaked at 1.33 million full-time equivalent positions in 2012/13, data from the 2017 Medium Term Budget Policy Statement showed.

The figures are given as “full-time equivalents” to account for part-time positions, the head of Wits University's School of Economic and Business Sciences, Prof Jannie Rossouw, told Africa Check.

Since then, public service employment has levelled out, Rossouw added. For the 2016/17 financial year, it stood at 1,304,600.

The medium policy statement notes that employees from the Community Work Programme and the Expanded Public Works Programme are not included in the figures, as “they are not part of the public service”.  Anim van Wyk

Financial yearFull-time equivalent public servants



“Poverty levels rose in 2015"



South Africa has three official poverty lines: the food poverty line (R441 per person per month in 2015 prices), the lower-bound poverty line (R647) and the upper-bound poverty line (R992).

In 2006, 66.6% of South Africa’s population were living in poverty (under the upper-bound poverty line). This fell to to 62.1% in 2009 and dropped further to 53.2% in 2011.

This decreasing trend ended in 2015, when the proportion of people living in poverty increased to 55.5%. - Kate Wilkinson

READ: FACTSHEET: South Africa’s official poverty numbers


“Since the start of the current parliament, our public employment programmes have created more than 3.2 million work opportunities."



Data from the Expanded Public Works Programme show that between the 2014/2015 financial year to 30 September 2017 (the latest data provided by the department of public works) 3,216,382 work opportunities have been created.

PeriodNumber of work opportunities
1 April - 30 September 2017591,614

Work opportunities are not permanent jobs, though, and only last a few months in most instances. The department also has a rider that “the same individual can be employed on different projects and each period of employment will be counted as a work opportunity”.

So while more than 3.2 million work opportunities were created, this does not mean that a similar number of people benefited from the programme. – Gopolang Makou


“Today we have nearly one million children who are participating in early childhood development facilities."



Africa Check previously rated this claim as “correct” based on information from the department of basic education. But new research suggests that Ramaphosa’s figure of “nearly 1 million children” is a significant underestimate.

According to Martin Gustafsson, an economics researcher at the University of Stellenbosch, there are “widespread misperceptions around how many children in South Africa attend some form of ECD institution”. He has researched and written extensively on the economics of education and pre-school participation.

Gustafsson used data from Statistics South Africa’s 2016 mid-year population estimates and 2016 Community Survey to estimate the number of children in any type of pre-school in 2016. (Note: These were children who were younger than eight at the start of 2016.)

His calculations put the figure at 2,409,953 children. But he did add that this could be an over- or underestimation.

The figure would be an underestimate if parents told Stats SA that their children where were “in a school” when they were actually at an early childhood development (ECD) facility. It would be an overestimate if parents reported “day mother” services, in which someone else looks after a single child during the day, as an ECD facility.

“Even with such a margin of error, it is clear that commonly quoted figures for ECD participation are much too low,” Gustafsson said. – Kate Wilkinson


“More than 17 million social grants are paid each month"



In December 2017, some 17,347,263 social grants were paid out according to the most recent data from South Africa Social Security Agency’s (SASSA).

By far most of these were child support grants, accounting for 12,197,673.

Grant typeNumber
Old age grant3,380,904
War veteran's grant125
Disability grant1,065,536
Grant in aid184,696
Care dependency grant146,666
Foster child grant371,643
Child support grant12,197,673

The agency’s data shows that more than 17 million grants were made in each month of 2017. – Gopolang Makou

READ: FACTSHEET: Social grants in South Africa – separating myth from reality


“Government’s free basic services programme currently supports more than 3.5 million indigent households."



Statistics South Africa released its latest non-financial census of municipalities in May 2017. It showed that in 2016, a total of 3,564,866 households received some form of support from government’s free basic services programme.

ProvinceIndigent households identified by the municipalities (2016)
Western Cape386,695
Eastern Cape769,176
Northern Cape80,166
Free State143,115
North West185,399
South Africa3,564,866

This is an increase of 16%, or 584,346 households, compared to the 2,980,520 households who received this support in 2015. – Gopolang Makou

READ: FACTSHEET: South Africa’s official poverty numbers


Mining fatalities are rising



“We are extremely concerned about the rising fatalities in mining, particularly this year,” Ramaphosa said, adding that “one mining fatality is far too many”.

Data from the department of mineral resources shows that mining fatalities had been decreasing since 2004, when they stood at 246. By 2016, they had dropped to 73.

However, the trend reversed in 2017, with preliminary figures showing 83 people died in the country’s mines. This Adv Paul Mardon, deputy general secretary for Occupational Health and Safety at trade union Solidarity, shared with Africa Check.

Year Mining fatalities

Source: Chamber of Mines & Solidarity

And the negative trend seems to continue, Mardon explained, as 12 miners have already died this year, compared to 10 in the same period in 2017.

“Both mines and miners are taking short-cuts and working faster to chase production targets at the expense of safety,” he said. “Unions, mining houses and government need to start working together instead of each doing their own thing.” – Anim van Wyk


“Agriculture has made the largest contribution… to the improved growth of our economy in the second and third quarters of 2017."



The economic growth of a country can be measured in different ways, according to Statistics South Africa. The most commonly used measure is real gross domestic product (GDP).

This is the “total value of goods and services that are produced in an economy in a certain time period”. The figures are adjusted to remove the effects of inflation and allow for comparison over time.

  • 2nd quarter 2017

The largest positive contributor to economic growth in the second quarter of 2017 was the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry. During that period, it contributed 0.7 of a percentage point to GDP growth (at constant 2010 prices, seasonally adjusted and annualised).

Statistics South Africa noted that “the industry’s increase was mainly as a result of increases in the production of field crops and horticultural products”.

The second biggest contributor was finance, real estate and business services (half a percentage point), followed by the mining and quarrying industry (0.3 of a percentage point).

  • 3rd quarter 2017

The agriculture, forestry and fishing industry was again the largest contributor to economic growth, contributing 0.9 of a percentage point.

Both the mining and quarrying industry and the manufacturing industry contributed 0.5 of a percentage point to GDP growth respectively.  – Kate Wilkinson


“Tourism currently sustains 700,000 direct jobs”



The latest tourism factsheet from the department of tourism notes that the industry contributed 731,398 jobs directly to the South African economy in the second quarter of 2017.

The deputy director-general for tourism research, policy and international relations at the department, Aneme Malan, told Africa Check the figures are informed by Stats SA’s methodology.

“The department uses the Quarterly Labour Force Survey and applies the same ratios used to calculate direct jobs created through tourism,” Malan noted. She added that these figures would include both seasonal and permanent employment.

Stats SA compiles annual job figures in their Tourism Satellite Account report, Desiree Manamela, a labour statistics director with the official data agency, told Africa Check. Figures for 2016 are due out soon.

The previous three reports showed a steady increase in people employed to produce goods and services for visitors. - Gopolang Makou

YearTourism-related jobs

Source: Tourism Satellite Account (* preliminary figures)


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