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Fact-checking the #SoNA2016 debates

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South African members of parliament are currently debating President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation address, which Africa Check fact-checked last week. We are fact-checking claims in the debate as they are made. Check back for updates.

Mmusi Maimane, leader of the opposition


There are “8.3 million jobless people" in South Africa.



Maimane’s claim is correct according to the broad definition of unemployment. This includes people who are unemployed and looking for a job and discouraged job-seekers (people who are unemployed but not looking for work).

South Africa’s latest quarterly labour force survey revealed that there were 8,304,000 unemployed people (broadly defined) in South Africa in July to September of 2015. - Kate Wilkinson

Factsheet: Unemployment statistics in South Africa explained

Lindiwe Sisulu, minister of human settlements


“In 1996 there were 3.4 million families residing in formal housing but by 2014 that number had increased to 9.4 million... An increase of 6 million houses that have been provided by this government.”



In 1996 there were 5,794,386 families living in formal dwellings in South Africa according to the presidency’s development indicators - not 3.4 million as Sisulu claimed.

People walk in the township of Demat, KwaZulu Natal. Photo: Rajesh Jantilal/AFP
People walk in the township of Demat, KwaZulu Natal. Photo: Rajesh Jantilal/AFP" />

By 2014 an estimated 12,386,953 families were living in formal houses, an increase of just over 6.5 million.

But not all of these houses were provided by government, as Sisulu claimed. The department of human settlements’ own data shows that between 1996/97 and 2014/15 they had delivered 2,795,256 houses. - Kate Wilkinson

Read: FACTSHEET: The housing situation in South Africa

Read: Minister Sisulu is right – SA’s housing delivery has almost halved since 2006/07


“In 1994 just over half of households had electricity, now 85% do.”



A national survey by the Southern Africa Labour Development Research Unit between 1993 and 1994 estimated that 53.6% of households had access to electricity.

The latest data from Statistics South Africa shows that 86% of South African households had access to mains electricity in 2014. Statistics for 2015 will be released later this year. - Kate Wilkinson

READ: Zuma wrong on household electricity. About 50% of homes had access in 1994


“At the last analysis of the ratings of television programmes the parliamentary channel was rated as one of the most watched programmes.”



The African National Congress opened parliament to live television in 1994 to transform “a stifled exclusive parliament into a people’s parliament”, Sisulu said in her reply.

But “[w]hat went on in this chamber on Thursday last week was nothing but a disgraceful display of tantrums and theatrics,” she said to describe opposition parties’ delaying of the president’s address. “That is very good for television, but we’re not competing with Idols here.”

Is the channel indeed one of South Africa’s most watched? Africa Check asked South African television magazine tvplus for help with data.

Parliamentary sittings are broadcast on channel 408 of satellite television service DStv. However, as it’s not a revenue-based channel the parliamentary channel doesn’t keep viewership statistics, writer Lav Nandlall established.

When SABC2 and the SABC News channel broadcast parliamentary sittings they draw an average of 13,000 viewers on estimate, Nandlall was told.

The broadcast of the State of a Nation Address is a different story. On 11 February 2016 nearly 2.5 million viewers tuned into SABC2 to watch the president and opposition parties battle it out for airtime. The SoNA attracted 23.7% of adults watching television at that time, as measured by the Broadcast Research Council of South Africa.

Compared to the average viewership of South Africa’s most popular soapies in January, parliament’s version of “tantrums and theatrics” slots between 5th place Scandal (4,008,745 viewers on average) and 6th place Rhythm City (2,468,157). - Anim van Wyk

Julius Malema, Economic Freedom Fighters leader


“More than 26 million” people in South Africa live in absolute poverty.



“Absolute poverty” generally refers to a specific income threshold below which people would be unable meet their basic needs.

Statistics South Africa has three absolute poverty lines which capture different degrees of poverty, lecturer at Stellenbosch University’s economics department, Marisa von Fintel, told Africa Check.

“The food poverty line captures their estimate of what is required in terms of food intake in order to survive, while the lower and upper bounds include the cost of other basic living requirements,” Von Fintel explained.

Malema’s claim is correct when we look at the upper bound poverty line.

The upper bound poverty line was R779 per person per month in 2011. Statistics South Africa estimated that 27,117,973 people (53.8% of the population) fell below this income threshold that year. At this level someone is considered to be living in poverty but able to buy the necessary food and non-food items they need.

There were 18,632,646 people living under the lower bound poverty line, which in 2011 was R501 per person per month. Below this level someone does not have enough income to buy both enough food and non-food items. As a result they will have to go hungry to pay for things like clothing, shelter, transportation or education.

In 2011, 10,944,089 people were living below the food poverty line, which equalled R335 per person per month. Someone under this line cannot afford enough food to meet their basic energy requirements of 2,100 calories per day. - Kate Wilkinson

FACTSHEET: What is poverty?

More claims of S. Africa’s ‘spectacular transformation’ fact-checked

Bheki Cele, deputy minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries


“[The agricultural] sector is currently facing the worst drought ever recorded in the history of South Africa.”



South Africa received the lowest average rainfall between January and December 2015 since 1904 - a total of 403 mm, according to the South African Weather Service.

The lack of rainfall has caused agriculture to suffer. As Cele said, South Africa will now have to import maize in order to meet local demand.

Chenin Blanc vines grow on a farm managed by the Kleine Zalze estate in Stellenbosch. Photo: AFP/Rodger Bosch
Chenin Blanc vines grow on a farm managed by the Kleine Zalze estate in Stellenbosch. Photo: AFP/Rodger Bosch" />

However, receiving the lowest rainfall on record does not automatically mean the current drought is the worst South Africa has ever experienced. That is because lack of rainfall is only one of the factors that lead to a drought.

Professor at the Wits Global Change and Sustainability Research Institute, Bob Scholes, told Africa Check that it is therefore still too early to measure the drought’s severity or compare it to previous ones. Professor of agrometeorology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Michael Savage added that more research will need to be carried out to measure the extent of the drought. - Lebohang Mojapelo

READ: Frequently asked questions about South Africa’s drought

Phumzile Van Damme, Democratic Alliance spokesman


“The unemployment rate amongst our youth is more than twice that of adults.”



In South Africa the “youth” are people aged between 15 and 34.

Using Statistics South Africa’s quarterly labour force survey data, Africa Check calculated that 35.8% of people aged 15 to 34 were unemployed between July and September 2015. In comparison, 16.6% of people aged 35 to 64 were unemployed.

The broad unemployment rate - which includes unemployed people and discouraged job seekers - showed a similar trend. Youth unemployment was 46.1%, while 23.2% of people aged 35 to 64 were jobless. - Kate Wilkinson

Derek Hanekom, minister of tourism


“Recently the influential site Buzzfeed voted South Africa as the most beautiful country in the world.”



When a Buzzfeed listicle called “The 20 most beautiful countries in the world” was published last year it quickly went viral. Starting with Nepal, the article included countries such as India, Switzerland, Colombia and China, with New Zealand placed third, the United States runner-up and South Africa as number one.

However, this post was not a product of Buzzfeed itself, but appeared on the Buzzfeed Community section where anyone can “share humor, cool stuff you've found, insights into identity and fandom, personality and trivia quizzes, and the occasional ode to Taylor Swift”.

Africa Check tried to contact the article’s creator “TravelGuru” but Brett Vergara, associate community manager of BuzzFeed, said that they “aren't allowed to give out the contact information of community users”.

It’s really cool for South Africa that a Buzzfeed user thought it’s the most beautiful country in the world, but it’s not really something to boast about in parliament, Minister Hanekom. - Anim van Wyk

Naledi Pandor, minister of science and technology


“Our government has also taken action to address the funding needs of the poorest as shown as having invested over R50 billion in loans and bursaries via the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).”



South Africa’s National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) provides financial aid for students in higher education who are “from poor and working class families who would otherwise not be able to afford to study”.

The scheme has been providing study loans and bursaries since 1991, and up to the end of March 2015, had disbursed R49.82 billion worth of financial assistance to students, according to its 2014/15 annual report. This was in aid of 1.5 million students.

NSFAS spokesman Kagisho Mamabolo told Africa Check that for the 2015/2016 year they “had a budget of R9.5 billion which was estimated to fund just over 420,000 students”. However, this is an unaudited figure, he said.

Sorry Minister Pandor, but we’ll therefore have to rate this claim “unproven” until it’s confirmed that “over R50 billion” has been disbursed. - Lebohang Mojapelo

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