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State of the Facts: Verifying Cyril Ramaphosa's #SONA2019 claims

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his second state of the nation address in parliament on 7 February. It was also the fifth - and final - Sona address of the current administration before this year’s national elections in May.

But did the president get his facts right as he listed the government's achievements? Africa Check partnered with 24-hour news channel eNCA to fact-check his claims on the night.

The economy


“In 2017, we recorded an inflow of foreign direct investment amounting to R17 billion.”



Foreign direct investments are made by companies or individuals from one country into businesses in another country.

Data from the UN Conference on Trade and Development shows that US$1.325 billion of foreign money was invested in South Africa in 2017. This is about R17.3 billion at the 30 June 2017 exchange rate.

It’s a however a decrease from US$2.235 billion - or R29.2 billion - in 2016. 

The figures sounded “about right“, said Prof Jannie Rossouw, head of the school of economic and business sciences at Wits University. But “it's nothing in the bigger scheme of things... it’s less than a percentage [point] of our economy”.  -Cayley Clifford 

READ: Misleading to say South Africa’s GDP has grown ‘three fold’ since 1994


“The World Bank's annual Doing Business Report currently puts South Africa number 82 out of 190 countries that they have tracked with regard to being able to do business in an efficient way.”



The World Bank’s “ease of doing business” index rates countries on a scale of 0 (absolute poor ease of doing business) to 100 (absolute better ease of doing business).

The score is calculated from indicators such as how long it takes to open a business or transfer a property and how easy it is to access credit.

South Africa was ranked 82nd with a score of 66.03 in 2018.

New Zealand was ranked first, with a score of 86.59. The report says high-ranking countries “are those that have consistently well designed business regulation or whose regulatory environments have thrived thanks to comprehensive reform over the years”.

Somalia placed last at 190th, with a score of 20.04. - Lloyd Hazvineyi



“Over the past five years, we’ve made significant progress with the provision of infrastructure. More than R1.3 trillion has been invested.”



Some R1.26 trillion was spent on infrastructure in the last five financial years, according to numbers from the national treasury.

Spending on public infrastructure in South Africa from 2013/14 to 2017/18
Financial year Spend (R billion)
2013/14 244.8
2014/15 262.2
2015/16 261.2
2016/17 249.8
2017/18 241.8
Total 1,259.8


These amounts include infrastructure spending at all levels of government, by state-owned companies and other public entities (such as  the Property Management Trading Entity in the department of public works) as well as public funds spent in public-private partnerships.

The treasury says capital items such as equipment, machinery and vehicles are excluded. But public housing, maintenance and repairs are part of the definition of infrastructure spending applied here. - Liesl Pretorius


“ Over the past five years..more than R1.3 trillion has been invested to build [infrastructure including] hundreds of thousands of new homes...”



Public housing is included in the national treasury’s definition of public-sector infrastructure spending.

According to the department of human settlements, close to 500,000 homes, or “housing units”, were delivered in the past five financial years.

Government-funded houses built (2013/14 to 2017/18)
Financial year Houses/units
2013/14 105,936
2014/15 94,566
2015/16 99,904
2016/17 89,186
2017/18 86,006
Total 475,598


Subsidised houses, rental accommodation, hostel upgrades and council houses where ownership was granted were counted as units built, departmental spokesperson Xolani Xundu confirmed. - Liesl Pretorius


“Over the past five years... more than R1.3 trillion has been invested to build [infrastructure including electrifying] more than a million homes.”



Close to 1.2 million homes were connected to the electricity grid from April 2014 to October 2018, according to the department of energy.

The April 2018 to October 2018 figures are provisional, as they haven’t been audited yet.

Electricity grid connections in South Africa from April 2014 to October 2018
Financial year Connections
2014/15 233,455
2015/16 231,012
2016/17 301,976
2017/18 275,830
April to October 2018 122,485 (provisional)
Total 1,164,758


These numbers exclude electricity supply that isn’t connected to the national grid. - Liesl Pretorius



“We have launched the Youth Employment Service, which is placing unemployed youth in paid internships in companies across the country.”



The Youth Employment Service initiative was launched on 27 March 2018 with the aim of creating a million jobs for young people using “innovation and technological best practice”.

Only 6,939 ‘work experiences’ committed so far

The initiative is a partnership between the government, business, labour and civil society. It will provide work experience, job placements (or the option for businesses to “sponsor” work placements) and training for people aged 18 to 35.

According to its website, 319 companies have registered for the service so far but only 6,939 “work experiences” have been confirmed. - Naphtali Khumalo

READ: Has SA’s President Ramaphosa kept his 2018 State of the Nation promises?

Social grants


“Every month 17.5 million social grants are provided to South Africans.”



The South African Social Security Agency administers social grants. Its most recent data on grants is from December 2018, when 17,731,402 social grants were paid.

The lowest number of grants delivered in 2018 was 17,396,831 in January. The average for the 2017/18 financial year ending in March 2018 was 17,509,555 grants. The number has however grown steadily - in 2007/08 the average was 12,423,739.

Growth in social grants in South Africa from 2013/14 to 2017/18
Financial year Number of grants
2017/18 17,509,995
2016/17 17,200,525
2015/16 16,991,634
2014/13 16,642,643
2013/14 15,932,473

SOURCE: SASSA 2017/18 Annual Report

Grants help counteract the effects of poverty in South Africa, Prof Jeremy Seekings, the director of the Centre for Social Science Research at the University of Cape Town, told Africa Check.

There is abundant evidence that grants improve nutrition – especially for children – and health, and provide dignity to otherwise marginalised social and demographic groups,” Seekings said.  - Lee Mwiti

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



"Over 700,000 children [accessed] early childhood education in the last financial year..."



This isn’t the first time Ramaphosa has underestimated the number of children in early childhood development facilities in South Africa.

In last year’s State of the Nation address, he put the number at “nearly one million children”. This year, his figure is “over 700,000”.

Both are way below the actual numbers.

Martin Gustafsson, an economics researcher at the University of Stellenbosch, says 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.

'How seriously South Africa takes education'

Using data from Statistics South Africa, Gustafsson estimates that 2,409,953 children were in some kind of pre-school in 2016. (Note: These were children who were younger than eight at the start of 2016.)

The 2017 general household survey reported that just over 2 million children under the age of four were attending a “day care centre, crèche, early childhood development centre (ECD) playgroup, nursery school or preprimary school”.

Knowing how many children are in these facilities is important for the government’s policy planning. Gustafsson adds that the existing underestimates may send the wrong signal to international investors about “how seriously South Africa takes the education of its citizens”. - Kate Wilkinson


“Over the past five years… [we’ve built] two new universities.”



In 2014, Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley, Northern Cape, and the University of Mpumalanga in Nelspruit opened their doors to students.

According to the public infrastructure update in the 2018 Budget Review, construction at these institutions is ongoing. “New facilities include lecture rooms, laboratories, sport and recreation amenities and student accommodation.” - Liesl Pretorius


“We launched the Safe initiative in August last year...”



The Sanitation Appropriate For Education (Safe) initiative was launched on 14 August 2018.

Partners in the project include the department of basic education, National Education Collaboration Trust and Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Its main objective is to replace unsafe school toilet facilities - like pit latrines - with safe ones.

A national government audit of schools in May and June 2018 found that at 3,898 schools the only toilets available were pit latrines. Another 3,040 had “proper sanitation”, but pit toilets were still on the premises. - Lloyd Hazvineyi

READ: Have ‘hundreds’ of kids drowned in school pit latrines in South Africa?


“... Since we launched the initiative, 699 schools have been provided with safe and appropriate sanitation facilities and projects and a further 1,150 schools are either in planning, design or construction stages.”



The president’s figures were from December 2018, the department of basic education told Africa Check.

Since then 88 more schools have been completed, bringing the total to 787, spokesperson Troy Martens told Africa Check. Companies that pledged to support the plan have also been meeting their obligations, Martens added.

But it was difficult to independently verify the department’s numbers, two education-focused civil society organisations told Africa Check. - Lloyd Hazvineyi



“In the past year we had 10 million tourists who came to our country, which is a huge increase .”



Statistics South Africa defines a tourist as “an overnight visitor who stays at least one night in collective or private accommodation in the place visited”.

In 2017 South Africa had 10,825,197 tourists, according to the agency. It had 10,044,163 tourists in 2016 and 8,903,773 in 2015.

Full data for 2018 is not yet available but, from January to November 2018 there were 9,464,950 tourist arrivals, according to Stats SA’s tourism and migration report released in January 2019.

It seems likely that the figure will increase to 10 million tourists. But in the absence of data for the full year we rate the claim unproven. (Note: We will update this report when the data is released.) - Naphtali Khumalo

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