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SA’s secret-ballot debate: 6 ANC achievements scrutinised

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South Africa’s much-anticipated debate on a motion of no confidence in the president was heavy on rhetoric, but light on claims about President Jacob Zuma’s performance.

That is except for the second to last speaker, Minister Nathi Mthethwa. The minister of arts and culture listed several government achievements.

“We know very well that their target is not the president alone,” he said, referring to the opposition.

No timeframe mentioned

Mthethwa was vague about the time frame he was pegging the achievements to, however.

Was he referring to Zuma’s term in office or the African National Congress (ANC) party’s rule, which commenced in 1994?

When Africa Check contacted his spokesman, Lokile Molefe said Mthethwa was speaking in his capacity as an ANC member and that all queries should be directed the party.

ANC communications manager, Khusela Sangoni, sent us back to Mthethwa’s office.

“All of the information in the speech comes from a report done by the [Human Sciences Research Council] last year,” Molefe told Africa Check, unable to provide the report’s name.

Africa Check asked Human Sciences Research Council spokesman Adziliwi Nematandani to help locate the report. But Nematandani was “still investigating Minister Mthethwa’s statements” by the time we published this report. (Note: We will update it when he gets back to us.)

For the purpose of this fact-check, we assumed that Mthethwa was referring to the ANC’s time in government.


“...our people’s access to electricity has increased from 58% to 85%.”



An estimated 50% of South African households had access to electricity in 1994, Africa Check has previously established. By 1996, census figures show it had increased to 58.2%.

Statistics South Africa’s most recent general household survey found that 84.2% of households had access to electricity, a slight decrease from the 85.5% reported in 2015.

“Even if the overall decrease of 1.3 percentage points was reported, the absolute numbers for households connected to mains electricity increased by approximately 235,000 households,” Stats SA's Casment Mahlwele told Africa Check. "We do not have a statistical reason for the causes of the decrease. However, it might have been as a result of household growth or new settlements which might be informal in nature.”

According to the country’s department of energy, “full electrification is unlikely to be possible due to growth and delays in the process of formalising informal settlements”. Thus providing electricity to 97% of households would constitute universal coverage.

When Zuma became president in 2009, access to electricity was at 82.7%. - Ina Skosana


"Government has increased GDP by more than 9 times from R400 billion to over R4 trillion per annum."



Without a timeframe to work from, we looked at annual gross domestic product (GDP) data from 1993 to 2016.

The data, provided by Stats SA, shows that GDP grew from R438.9 billion in 1993 to R4.3 trillion in 2016.

But these figures reflect “the size of the GDP without taking into account inflation, that is GDP in real terms”, Stats SA’s executive manager for national accounts, Michael Manamela, highlighted.

When South Africa’s GDP is adjusted for inflation, the figures show that it had nearly doubled between 1993 and 2016.

“The relevant measure is real GDP,” Dr Seán Muller, senior lecturer in the faculty of economics and financial sciences at the University of Johannesburg, explained. “If we used nominal GDP … we would conclude that rampant inflation was a good thing because it increased GDP. In countries that experience hyperinflation, as Zimbabwe did, real GDP will often plummet even as nominal GDP spikes.”

A further problem Muller identified is that the minister attributed the increase to government.

“While government does play a direct and indirect role in economic growth, the extent of that is a question for more detailed economic analysis,” he said. “And a definitive conclusion about the extent to which government (however defined) can be credited with real growth in GDP is rarely (if ever) possible.”

Ideally, population growth should also be factored in, Muller added. - Gopolang Makou


"Life expectancy [has] increased [by] 6 years."



Life expectancy in South Africa stood at 57 years in 1996 based on that year’s census. Stats SA’s 2017 mid-year population estimates put current life expectancy at 64 years.

However, the two years cannot be directly compared as they were "computed at different points in time when completeness of death registers and data quality were different", Stats SA's executive manager for demography statistics, Diego Iturralde, told Africa Check. Their current life series commenced in 2002 and shows that life expectancy dipped in the early 2000s - reaching a low of 53.5 years - largely due to the HIV pandemic.

It started recovering in 2007, with Stats SA attributing it to the expansion of HIV treatment as well as the country’s prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the virus.

When Zuma took office in 2009, life expectancy stood at 56.9 years, working out to an increase of more than 7 years during his term. - Ina Skosana


“Functional illiteracy [has decreased] nearly by half from 34% to 19%.”



Statistics South Africa defines “functional illiteracy” as the “percentage of persons aged 20 years and older with no formal education or highest level of education less than grade 7”.  

Estimates of functional literacy were calculated in 1994, but Niël Roux, manager of service delivery statistics at Stats SA, has previously warned against using them.

“The sample and fieldwork execution used in 1994 were much more rudimentary as a result of the shortage of recent census data,” explained Roux. “It is therefore likely that the results of the 1994 survey would be less certain.”

The most reliable data from that time frame comes from the 1996 census. Based on this data, Roux calculated that 35.8% of South Africans were functionally illiterate.

By 2016, this had been more than halved to 14.6% of South Africans. - Kate Wilkinson


“… we have seen students who have obtained the national senior certificate increasing from 45% to 56%”



Before making this claim, Mthethwa said: “The basic education system has been [on] an upward trend and [the] matric pass rate has improved.”

The national senior certificate - or matric, as it is commonly called - is the “certificate awarded as the final exit qualification at the end of Grade 12” in South Africa.

Africa Check couldn’t figure out what exactly Mthethwa was speaking about. As his office did not clear it up to us, we have explored three possible meanings below.

  1. The country’s matric pass rate? No.

In 2016, 72.5% of students who wrote the national senior certificate examination passed. In 2008 (the year that the national senior certificate was introduced), 62.6% of students passed.

Mthethwa was therefore not referring to the country’s matric pass rate - or correctly, in any case.

  1.  The “real matric pass rate”? No.

The “real matric pass rate” is also known as the “throughput-pass-rate”. People use it to indicate the share of students who started school in Grade 2 and that went on to pass matric. (Note: Grade 2 is used for the comparison because many children repeat Grade 1, making the year group abnormally large.)

In 2016, 442,672 students wrote and passed their final examination. However, in 2006 - when the students were in Grade 2 - there were 1,054,582 of them.

This means that the “real matric pass rate” was 42% in 2016. This is lower than both figures cited by Mthethwa.

  1. The share of the population holding a national senior certificate? No.

Stats SA’s 2016 general household survey notes that the share of people older than 20 with at least Grade 12 “has been increasing consistently since 2002, expanding from 31.4% in 2002 to 42.8% in 2016”.

The minister therefore couldn’t have been referring to the share of the population that have passed matric, either.

We will update this report if Mthethwa’s office explains the meaning of this claim. - Kate Wilkinson


“17 million beneficiaries receive social grants”



In our factsheet on South Africa’s social grants, we explained that South Africa’s social safety net had increased exponentially since 1994. Back then, government provided four million grants.

The latest figures from the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), for July 2017, puts the number of grants at 17,330,034. - Ina Skosana


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