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Facts or alternative facts? Zuma's 10th State of the Nation Address checked

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Amidst unprecedented security measures, South Africa's President Jacob Zuma delivered his tenth State of the Nation Address on 9 February 2017. We fact-checked his speech.



“To date, nearly 7 million households have been connected to the grid and now have the electricity."



South Africa’s development indicators showed that 6,340,321 households had been connected to the grid as of 2013/14. A further 233,455 were connected in 2014/15 and 231,012 were connected in 2015/16. Figures for 2016/17 have yet to be released.

Zuma’s claim is correct based on these figures. They show that a total of 6,804,788 households - nearly 7 million - were connected as of 31 March 2016.

As of 2016, 90,3% of South African households had access to electricity for lighting. - Kate Wilkinson



"Among the participating countries [in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study] South Africa has shown the largest improvement of 87 points in mathematics and 90 points in science."



The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is conducted every 4 years and provides participating countries with the means to compare pupil performance in maths and science.  

Grade 4 and Grade 8 pupils are tested in most of the countries that take part in the study. However, in South Africa, Grade 5 and 9 pupils are tested.

The 2015 study found that South Africa’s Grade 9 pupils recorded the “biggest positive change”. There was an improvement of 90 points in science and 87 points in mathematics.

The report goes on to note that “South Africa started with very low performance scores in 2003 and this upward shift translates to an overall performance improvement by approximately two grade levels between 2003 and 2015”.

While South African Grade 9 pupils did record a large improvement, in comparison to other countries they fared badly. Out of the 39 countries assessed, South Africa’s Grade 9 students placed 38th for mathematics performance and 39th for science performance. - Kate Wilkinson

READ: South African pupils not ‘second worst in the world’ in maths & science


“Government also settled all debt owed by National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) students.”



The media unit of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) as well as its spokesman, Tsepo Kanye, both referred Africa Check to a lengthy statement issued by the scheme earlier this year. It stated that “the historic debt of all students who qualify for NSFAS has been resolved”.

However, the statement shows that students will still have to repay their debt - but to NSFAS under a new agreement, not their university.

First, funds to clear their debt were made available for students who applied for and qualified for NSFAS loans in 2013, 2014 and 2015. These students were either partly funded or underfunded by NSFAS and have therefore accumulated a debt over those years. NSFAS said this affected 71,753 students.

South African students from the University of Cape Town listen to Western Cape premier Helen Zille during a meeting at the university in May 2011. Photo: AFP/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA" />

“Students who are still studying, dropped out or graduated within the stipulated academic years” can have these loan payments effected, the NSFAS statement said.

Second, the debt will be cleared in the form of a loan provided to qualifying students based on the means test available from these students’ previous NSFAS applications in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Third, the loan is intended to be convertible to a bursary. Based on students’ academic performance, up to 40% of the loan can be converted to a bursary during studies. The full loan amount is convertible to a bursary when the students meet graduation requirements during their final year of study.

Finally, NSFAS said it will pay the principal or “capital” amount owed by the student to the university.

Kagisho Mamabolo, the national spokesman in the office of the head of NSFAS told Africa Check that universities agreed that they will not charge interest on these students’ historic debt.

NSFAS told us that payments have already been disbursed to universities. We were unable to check with each individual university, but the University of the Witwatersrand’s NSFAS supervisor, Portia Simelane, told Africa Check that “some outstanding claims have been paid by NSFAS”.

As such, the “historical debt” has not been “settled” but deferred under less stringent conditions. The claim by the president is therefore misleading. - Vinayak Bhardwaj

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


"A total of 173 inappropriate [schools] have been eradicated since 2011."



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

As of July 2016, 170 schools had been replaced, a department presentation to the select committee on basic education showed. At the time of Zuma’s speech, the department’s figures showed that 173 had been replaced. The latest figure displayed on the department’s website puts the number of schools at 174.

The programme is far behind schedule, however. Initially, 496 schools were identified as “inappropriate structures”. Of those, 50 schools were meant to be replaced in 2011/12, 100 schools in 2012/13 and the last 346 schools in 2013/14. - Kate Wilkinson



“In terms of the 2015 to 2016 information submitted to the Employment Equity Commission, the representation of whites at top management levels amounted to 72%, while African representation was at 10%. The representation of coloureds stood at 4.5%, and Indians 8.7%.”



The commission for employment equity compiles an annual report on employment equity for the department of labour.

The data in the report is submitted once a year by designated employers, which include employers who employ 50 or more employees, employers who employ fewer than 50 employees but have a certain annual turnover, as well as municipalities, all levels of government, state-owned companies and educational institutions.

The 2015/16 annual report showed that 68.9% of top management workforce was white, 14.3% was black, 8.6% was Indian, 4.7% was coloured and 3.5% was foreign.

The breakdown of management levels by population group:

Top managementSenior managementProfessionally qualifiedSkilled technical

- Kate Wilkinson


“The expanded public works program has since 2014 created more than 2 million work opportunities towards the attainment of the target of 6 million work opportunities by the end of March 2019.”



Data from the expanded public works programme supports Zuma’s claim. Nearly 2.5 million job opportunities were created between 1 January 2014 and 31 December 2016.

Total work opportunities
1 April 2016 - 31 December 2016497,624
1 April 2015 - 31 March 2016741,540
1 April 2014 - 31 March 20151,103,983
1 January 2014 - 31 March 2014154,965

Work opportunities are not permanent jobs, however, and in most cases only last a few months.

The department of public works notes that “the same individual can be employed on different projects and each period of employment will be counted as a work opportunity”. So while nearly 2.5 million work opportunities were created, this does not mean that the same number of people benefited from the programme. - Kate Wilkinson


“Of the [more than 2 million] work opportunities created, more than 1 million have been taken up by the youth.”



This claim followed on from Zuma’s previous statement, in which he said that “the expanded public works programme has since 2014 created more than 2 million work opportunities”.

Africa Check was unable to find fourth quarter figures for 2013/14. However, even without them, the expanded public works programme reports show that 1,129,516 job opportunities were filled by young people. This was 45% of all work opportunities over the period. - Kate Wilkinson

Total work opportunities for youth
1 April 2016 - 31 December 2016222,587
1 April 2015 - 31 March 2016340,663
1 April 2014 - 31 March 2015566,265
1 January 2014 - 31 March 2014-

Income inequality


“White households earn at least 5 times more than black households, according to Statistics South Africa.”



Statistics South Africa’s 2014/15 Living Conditions of Households Survey reported that black African households had an average income of R92,983 per year. In comparison, white households had an average income R444,446 per year.

Based on these figures, white households’ income is on average 4.8 times more than black households. - Kate Wilkinson

Population GroupAverage annual household income
National averageR138,168



“Only 10% of the top 100 companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange are owned by black South Africans... according to the National Empowerment Fund.”



Zuma was wrong. In fact, his statement contained two errors.

  1. Top 17 financial services companies

Africa Check asked the National Empowerment Fund (NEF), a government mandated fund tasked with facilitating economic equality and transformation in South Africa, for the research Zuma’s claim was based on. They provided the organisation’s 2017 submission to parliament’s standing committee on finance.

The research contained in the submission only looked at a “sample analysis of the top 17 financial services companies by market capitalisation as listed on the JSE” - not the top 100 companies, as Zuma held.

The research refers to 31 December 2016 and was conducted by Intellidex, a South African capital markets and financial services research house.

  1. 10% = target

The submission made no reference to black-ownership of the JSE equalling 10%.

“The study shows that the financial service sector companies have achieved an average of 6% against the direct equity target of 10%,” the NEF told Africa Check. - Kate Wilkinson

READ: Black ownership on SA’s stock exchange - what we know



“...about 10,000 unemployed youth are being trained as plumbers, artisans and water agents”



In his 2015 State of the Nation Address, Zuma announced that 15,000 artisans, plumbers and water agents would be trained as part of the War on Leaks initiative.

The department’s 2015/2016 annual report noted that 3,000 artisans started training last year, while an additional 7,000 trainees were to join their ranks in August.

The department’s spokesman, Sputnik Ratau, was unable to confirm to Africa Check how many young people started training in August 2016. (Note: We will update this report when Ratau supplies the figures for the second intake.)

However, he said the programme is still on-going and that a third intake of trainees would take place this year. - Gopolang Makou & Katleho Sekhotho

READ: How many SA municipalities lose more than 37% of their water? We don’t know



“Government is actively involved in the property sector, having provided more than 4 million houses since 1994.”



Data from the department of human settlements shows that 2,835,275 houses were built by government between 1994/95 and 2013/14. A further 95,210 were built in 2014/15 and 100,339 were built in 2015/16. This brings the total number of houses delivered to 3,030,824 - around a million less than Zuma claimed.

It is possible that Zuma was referring to the delivery of both houses and serviced sites. This, however, is not a house. It is a piece of land, which should be supplied with water, electricity and sanitation, on which a recipient can build their own house.

When serviced sites are included, the number of “housing opportunities” delivered rises to 4,060,795 as of 2015/16.

However, concerns have been raised over the accuracy of the housing statistics. Experts caution that since the figures have not been independently verified they should be viewed as “indicative rather than entirely conclusive”. - Kate Wilkinson

FACTSHEET: The housing situation in South Africa



“At the level of gender, at senior management level males remain dominant at 67.6% and females at 32.4%.”



The commission for employment equity’s 2015/16 annual report showed that 67.6% of employees at senior management were men and 32.4% of employees were women. - Kate Wilkinson



"There has also been a 19% decline in households involved in agriculture from 2.9 million in 2011 to 2.3 million households in 2016."



The Agricultural Household section in Stats SA’s 2016 Community Survey shows that households involved in agriculture decreased from 2.88 million in 2011 to 2.33 million in 2015. The statistical agency indicated that the drop can be attributed to the drought between 2014 and 2015.

Using the unrounded figures, the drop is 17%, not 19%. - Gopolang Makou



"Our tourist arrival numbers for the period January to November 2016 increased to 9 million, an increase of just over 1 million arrivals from 2015. This represents a 13% growth in tourism arrivals."



Statistics South Africa records the monthly tourist arrivals in South Africa. It downloads the data covering a specific calendar month from the department of home affairs.

The total number of tourist arrivals between January and November 2016 adds up to 9 million, as Zuma stated.


During the same period in 2015, 8,011,05 tourists arrived in South Africa. The increase between 2015 and 2016 therefore is 13%. (Note: Figures for December 2016 has since been released. With 965,107 tourist arrivals recorded, the total for 2016 is 10,044,163, compared to 8,903,773 in 2015 - also a 13% increase.)

However, arrivals in 2015 were much lower than the corresponding periods in 2014 and 2013, when more than 8.5 million tourists arrived between January and November in each year. - Vinayak Bhardwaj & Ziyanda Ngcobo

Social grants


“Social grants now reach close to 17 million people, mainly older persons and children”



Figures supplied to Africa Check by the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), shows that the agency paid out more than 17 million grants at the end of January.

Of those, 3,283,286 were recipients of the grant for older persons. By far the largest number of grants were for child support, with more than 12 million people receiving this type. - Julie Bourdin

Grant typeNumber
Old age grant3,283,286
War veteran’s grant185
Disability grant1,069,802
Grant in aid159,515
Child support grant12,039,444
Foster child grant411,133
Care dependency grant143,824

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



“We welcome the decline in rhino poaching incidents since October 2015 which is for the first time in a decade.”



Consolidated figures for rhino poaching in 2016 have not yet been released. The latest figures were provided by the department of environmental affairs in a September 2016 media release. This was confirmed to Africa Check by departmental spokesman, Albi Modise.

Between January and August 2016, 702 rhinos were poached countrywide, compared to 796 rhinos between January and July 2015 and a total of 1,175 rhino poaching incidents for the whole year, as recorded by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime.

While this does indicate a decline in the incidents of poached rhinos (40 fewer incidents were recorded in 2015 than in 2014), this is a relatively small decline when compared to the steady increase in poaching incidents since 2008.

Africa Check will only be able to verify this claim once the 2016 figures have been released. - Gopolang Makou

YearRecorded incidents



“Within the National Prosecuting Authority, the Asset Forfeiture Unit completed 389 forfeiture cases to the value of R349 million.”



Following a successful investigation or prosecution, the money that is recovered by the state from freezing orders is referred to as the value of “completed forfeitures”.

The National Prosecuting Authority’s latest annual report shows that 389 forfeiture cases were completed by the Asset Forfeiture Unit during 2015/2016, like the president said.

These completed cases were valued at R349.5 million, exceeding the R210 million that was projected to be recovered by R139.5 million. The annual report credits a focus on high-value cases, improved investigations and “the increased use of non-conviction based forfeiture” for the better-than-projected performance.

The table below shows how the 2015/16 results compare to previous years:

Financial yearValue of completed forfeitures
2009/10R185 million
2010/11R212 million
2011/12R164 million
2012/13R119 million
2013/14R296.4 million
2014/15R1,939 million
2015/16R349.5 million

- Gopolang Makou


"Last year, I signed into law a provision to criminalise the cartels and collusion and it came into effect on 1 May. It carries jail sentences of up to 10 years."



Zuma prefaced this claim by saying that collusion by cartels “squeeze out small players and hamper the entry of young entrepreneurs and black industrialists”.

It is likely that the president was referring to the proclamation signed in May last year which inserted section 73A into and amended section 74 of the existing Competition Act.

The actual amendment act was passed by parliament in 2009, but various provisions of the amendment have been signed into effect periodically, director in the competition practice of law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, Lara Granville, explained to Africa Check.

This amendment act introduced provisions to deal with “other practices that tend to prevent or distort competition in the market for any particular goods or services”, Granville said. Additionally, the act brings about provisions to hold personally accountable those individuals who “cause firms to engage in cartel conduct”.

The penalties for these offences are a fine “not exceeding R500,000 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 years, or to both a fine and such imprisonment”.

However, the new penalties could deter people from coming forward with information about collusion, Granville said. “While criminalisation may be an effective deterrent to cartel conduct, it may prevent people blowing the whistle about cartels to the competition tribunal due to fear of prosecution.” - Vinayak Bhardwaj


“Compliance levels with parole and probation conditions have improved to reach a historic mark of 98%.”



Speaking about fighting crime, Zuma said one of government’s strategies “is to ensure that those who are released from prison do not commit crime again”.

The department of correctional services’ 2015/16 annual report shows that 51,307 of the 51,937 people (98.78%) released during that period complied with the conditions of their release.

However, there are problems with this narrow reading of the figures, the director of the penal programme at the Lawyers for Human Rights, Clare Ballard, pointed out to Africa Check.An inmate of Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town holds a lighted candle in remembrance of prisoners with HIV/AIDS in October 2002. Photo: AFP/Anna Zieminski

“The ‘compliance’ that the president refers to relates to policing aspects of parole,” Ballard told Africa Check. That is, whether the parolee is at home when supposed to and whether the person is at home or work at a certain time, Ballard explained.

The number doesn’t capture opportunities to help parolees escape a life of crime, by receiving drug counselling or career advice.

Furthermore, offenders serving life sentences experience significant delays in being granted parole, Ballard explained.

South Africa introduced minimum mandatory sentences in 1997. In certain instances of rape and with certain types of murders the perpetrator must receive a sentence of life imprisonment, unless there are “substantial and compelling circumstances” that justify a lesser sentence.

“The department is clearly overwhelmed by the bottleneck that the minimum sentences have created,” Ballard told Africa Check. Her calculations show that South Africa has more offenders serving life sentences than ever before.

“We represent hundreds of life offenders all over the country whose parole application processes have been delayed by years and years, simply because of systemic poor management of the process on the part of the parole boards, the national council of correctional services, and the minister, who has the final say on whether a life offender may be released,” she added. - Vinayak Bhardwaj



“The department of social development is building new public treatment centres in provinces where there are no such facilities - in the Northern Cape, North West, Limpopo, the Free State and Eastern Cape.”



The national drug master plan is South Africa’s plan for reducing alcohol and substance abuse, spearheaded by the Central Drug Authority, the body responsible for its monitoring and implementation.

According to the plan, the departments of social development and health will work together to provide inpatient treatment facilities at community and tertiary levels.

In a 2016 parliamentary meeting, the deputy chairperson of the central drug authority, David Bayever, said that R150 million had been secured from treasury to build 4 public treatment centres in provinces that previously did not have these facilities: the Northern Cape, Free State, Limpopo (which, at the time, was completed but not functioning) and the Eastern Cape (which, at the time, was already functioning).

National spokesman for the department of social development, Lumka Oliphant, told EWN and Africa Check that a treatment centre in the North West province has since been completed but that the centres in the Northern Cape, Free State as well as Limpopo (contradicting the parliamentary presentation) are still under construction.

A year ago, the department said in a media statement that the Limpopo facility had already been completed. Africa Check called the Seshego Hospital near Polokwane, where the facility is situated and confirmed that the building has been erected but the centre is currently not operational.

Africa Check also made calls to the centres in the North West (one located at the Taung Provincial Hospital and another located at the Witrand Psychiatric Hospital in Potchefstroom). From our calls, we gathered that the Witrand centre is currently open but the Taung facility is not yet operational.

Further questions to Oliphant asking when these facilities were expected to be completed and operational were unanswered at the time of publication. (Note: We will update this report when she gets back to us.) - Gopolang Makou & Katleho Sekhotho

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