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Fact-checking EFF party leader Julius Malema's manifesto launch speech: 'Nothing has changed since 1994'

As the Economic Freedom Fighters unveiled its 2024 election manifesto, Malema was keen to highlight the failures of the current government.

  • Malema’s claim that poverty in South Africa is worse in 2024 than in 1994 can’t be proven. Definitions of poverty and how it is measured vary widely, and up-to-date information on income and expenditure in the country is needed.

  • The EFF leader’s assertions that no white people lived in informal settlements in South Africa and that 80% of the land is still in the hands of whites are incorrect. 

  • It’s also not true that more than 15 million South Africans who can work are unemployed. Estimates would vary according to how joblessness is defined, but is more likely to sit around 12 million. 

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the second largest opposition party in South Africa, launched its election manifesto on 10 February 2024.

We fact-checked four key claims made in the document and found that the party was correct to claim that South Africa’s three wealthiest individuals have more wealth than the poorest 26 million South Africans.

Claims that the country averages 20,000 murders a year and still has a degrading sanitation system of bucket toilets also withstood scrutiny. But the EFF rehashed the incorrect claim that 80% of South Africa’s population lives on less than 10% of the country’s land. 

(READ: “Our land and jobs now. Stop load shedding!”: Fact-checking four big claims in the Economic Freedom Fighters’ 2024 election manifesto)

In his keynote address at the manifesto launch in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal province, party leader Julius Malema told the crowd that “nothing has changed since 1994” when the ruling African National Congress was elected to power. He made claims to support this statement, which we take a closer look at in this report. 

As with the manifesto, the EFF did not respond to our questions about the source of these claims. We will update this report if we hear back from the party. 

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“There are no white people in informal settlements.”



Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) collects information on the living conditions of households in its general household surveys (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.

To assess the claim, we contacted the national data agency. Service delivery statistics manager Niël Roux told Africa Check that to make an accurate assessment, it was important to understand the concepts used and the nature of the data available.

The GHS data is based on a sample of around 30,000 households. Although this may seem like a small sample, Roux said it was large enough to provide an accurate snapshot of the country as a whole. 

But there are some limitations to bear in mind. For example, while the sample provides better coverage of large and randomly distributed populations, it might not provide adequate coverage of very small or clustered populations. 

“The latter includes people with disabilities and international migrants … it would be easy to miss them, particularly if they also tend to cluster together,” Roux said. “Poor whites” were another category of people that could be easily missed because of their relatively small size and clustering.

This did not mean that there were no poor white people, said Roux. And the GHS data does provide some insight, albeit inadequate. 

An analysis of the 2022 GHS, the latest available, found that at least 3,800 white people lived in informal dwellings. A further 2,552 lived in caravans, tents or “other” forms of shelter.

What census data shows

“The only way to overcome the limitations of a small sample and the potential clustering of poor whites into small communities would be to have a focused sample, to use a much bigger sample, or to do a census,” Roux said. 

The 2022 census found that 28,481 white people lived in informal housing, either in backyards or in informal settlements. 

But Roux warned that the census suffered from a very high undercount, particularly among white people. 

While both data sets have limitations, it is clear that some white people do live in informal settlements. 


“Poverty is worse than it was 30 years ago.”



As further proof that nothing has changed in South Africa since 1994, Malema said: “Thirty years ago we said we will fight poverty, today it's worse.” 

Poverty in South Africa is usually measured using poverty lines, although there are many other methods. Poverty lines are estimates of the amount of money a person needs each month to afford certain items to survive.

  • The upper-bound poverty line indicates the point at which someone can afford a list of specific essential food and non-food items. 
  • The lower-bound poverty line is the point at which someone cannot afford to buy both essential food and non-food items, so they sacrifice food to buy other essentials. 
  • The food poverty line is the amount of money needed to meet only the minimum daily energy requirement.

The most recent poverty trends report was published in 2017 and includes poverty estimates for the years 2006 to 2015. It shows that in 2006, 66.6% of the population lived below the upper-bound poverty line. By 2015, the figure had fallen to 55.5%.

Poverty lines are an efficient way of measuring absolute poverty in financial terms. But as we’ve written before, researchers argue that they only capture a partial picture of the problem.

In 2014, Stats SA developed the South African Multidimensional Poverty Index or SAMPI. It measures poverty in three dimensions – health, education and living standards – at the level of the individual. If someone is deprived in a third or more of 10 indicators, they are considered to be multidimensionally poor. 

According to Stats SA’s calculations, the total percentage of people who were considered multidimensionally poor in South Africa in 2001 was 17.9%. By 2011, this had more than halved to 8%. Five years later, in 2016, it had fallen by one percentage point, to 7%.

Comparing historical figures

The University of Cape Town’s Development Policy Research Unit (DPRU) told Africa Check that up to 2017, existing studies showed that “both the incidence and severity of income and multidimensional poverty have largely decreased during the post-apartheid period”. They said the extent of these changes depended on the dataset and measurement used. 

For example, data from the National Income Dynamics Study – a panel study conducted every two years since 2008 on the same 28,000 South Africans selected to represent the population – suggested that 25% of the population lived below the food poverty line in 2017. 

The DPRU referred Africa Check to a study that put this figure at 50% in 1995. But comparing these estimates is not straightforward. “One needs to ensure that the same poverty lines are used and of course adjust for inflation,” the research unit said. 

The DPRU noted that most of the key statistics on poverty are based on income and expenditure surveys. While these were published in 1995 and 2000, and could technically be used to produce poverty estimates, this would be a difficult task. And it’s not clear whether these estimates would be comparable to the more recent Stats SA figures, which cover the years 2006 to 2015. 

More research is needed 

Further estimates can be found in:

  • A 2012 DPRU working paper, which showed a decline in poverty as measured by poverty lines between 1995 and 2005.
  • A 2013 research brief by the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, also at the University of Cape Town, which reported a decline in the proportion of multidimensionally poor South Africans between 1993 and 2010. 
  • A 2018 assessment by the World Bank, which found that the poverty rate, as measured by the lower-bound poverty line, declined between 2006 and 2015 (although it warned that poverty trends between 2011 and 2015 threatened to reverse some of the progress made since 1994). 

While several sources point to a reduction in poverty between 1994 and 2015, what has happened in the years since? Until Stats SA releases the 2022/23 income and expenditure survey, “we can’t be certain what poverty currently looks like”, said the DPRU.

The data agency is now analysing survey data collected between November 2022 and November 2023.

We therefore rate the EFF’s claim unproven. This means publicly available information neither proves nor disproves the claim


“30 years down the line, 80% of the land is in the hands of the whites.”



We checked a similar claim made in the EFF’s manifesto and found it to be incorrect. This claim suffers from many of the same problems.

In 1993, a Stats SA agricultural census estimated that the country had about 82 million hectares of agricultural land. The government has referred to this land as “white-owned agricultural land”. This was 67% of South Africa’s total land area at the time. 

But these figures are now decades old. Since 1994, people of other races have acquired some of this land through private sales and loans. Exactly how much land has been transferred is unclear. 

That’s because the race of the owner of a piece of land isn’t easily established. Much of South Africa’s land is unregistered, owned by the state, or privately owned by an owner whose race can’t be determined (such as through a company or trust).

The 2017 land audit report, the latest available, provides a limited picture of individual land ownership. It found that about 82% of all registered land by area was privately owned, of which 39% was owned by individuals. 

Table: Individual land ownership by race in South Africa


Farms and agricultural holdings


Sectional title

Total hectares

Share of land





27 million






2.1 million






1.5 million






5.4 million


Source: 2017 land audit report (Note: Percentages do not add up to 100% because the categories “co-ownership” and “other” are not included.

The table above shows that white landowners owned far more than the national average area of farm and agricultural land. This is the largest category of land but, to a lesser extent, this inequality persisted across all other categories of land.

Across farmland and agricultural holdings, erven and sectional title units, white landowners were recorded as owning 27,025,769 hectares of land. This represents about 73% of all individually owned land (less than Malema claimed), but only about 22% of all land (much less than Malema claimed).

As well as private sales, there are other ways in which land has changed hands since 1994, such as the government’s ongoing land reform projects, which are designed to ensure more equitable distribution of land ownership.

The available data, although outdated, does not support Malema’s claim that 80% of the country’s land is owned by white people.


“Joblessness in South Africa today sits at more than 15 million people who are capable to work.”



Stats SA counts as “unemployed” those who were able to work, wanted to find work and were actively looking for work at the time of its surveys. 

There were 7.9 million unemployed people in South Africa at the end of 2023. If we included the further 3 million people who were discouraged from looking for work (for example, because there were no jobs nearby) or who had other reasons for not actively looking for work (800,000) the total would be 11.7 million people – less than Malema claimed. 

Another way of assessing unemployment is to look at the labour absorption rate. This is the percentage of the working age population (15 to 64 years old) that is employed (that is, they did paid work for at least an hour or had a job or business in the week of the survey). This was 40.8% at the end of 2023. The remaining 59.2% (or 24.3 million people) did not meet this definition. This figure is much higher than Malema claimed. 

Many people who do not have income-generating work fall into the category of “not economically active”. As well as discouraged work seekers, they include people such as students and homemakers and those who are ill or have a disability. 

At the end of 2023, 16.4 million people were not economically active. But Malema specifically referred to people who were “capable” of working, and many in this category would not be.

None of the employment data collected by Stats SA supports the claim.

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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