South African government speech writers have been getting good use out of a particular figure in recent months.
“Government has built 795 schools since 2009,” President Jacob Zuma told crowds at the “National Day of Prayer for Unity, Peace, Rain and Successful Local Government Elections” in Durban at the end of May.
He repeated the claim verbatim on Youth Day, commemorated on 16 June.
The factoid has subsequently featured in speeches delivered by national assembly speaker Baleka Mbete and minister of defence and military veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
It has reached Twitter too, being visualised and tweeted by the department of sport and recreation’s spokesman, Esethu Hasane. (Although he lost five schools in the process.)
— Esethu Hasane (@EsethuHasane) May 24, 2016
When asked for “receipts" for the schools - or evidence - Hasane replied saying that the presidency should provide them as they had written the speech.
Presidency says data from education department
The president’s spokesman, Bongani Ngqulunga, told us that the information was provided to them by the department of basic education.
We contacted the department more than six weeks ago asking for documents or reports to support the claim. Despite numerous follow-ups we have not received a response.
Putting the data puzzle pieces together
Without an official response we set about patching together the data we could get our hands on. There were four different sources:
- In 2014, Africa Check obtained data from Zuma’s previous spokesman, Mac Maharaj, showing that 333 schools had been built by provincial education departments between 2009/10 and 2013/14. We attempted to verify these numbers but only three provinces responded to our requests for information.
- A presentation by the national department of education to the select committee on appropriations shows that the provinces built 121 schools in 2014/15.
- The department’s yet-to-be-published 2015/16 annual report could possibly include data on the number of schools built. This information isn’t always reported on and we will only be able to check later this year. However, a table presented to the select committee on appropriations indicates that they planned to build 105 schools that year.
- Schools built through the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) - a government initiative to rebuild “mud schools” - are reported on separately. The latest data from the department’s website indicates that 162 schools have been built.
Our method is not foolproof and the reliability of national school infrastructure statistics has been brought into question before. But based on the available data our best estimate is that 722 schools could have been built since the start of the 2009 financial year - we’ve included all 105 schools that the department aimed to built in 2015/16 to be generous. That’s 73 schools short of Zuma’s claim.
Conclusion: The claim is unproven
Zuma and numerous other government officials have claimed that the South African government has built 795 schools since 2009.
The president’s spokesman referred questions to the department of basic education. However, despite requesting supporting evidence for a period of over six weeks, we have not received a response.
Based on a number of data sources - including a target for 2015/16 - Africa Check estimates that 722 schools could have been built. This is a shortfall of 73 schools.
If Zuma’s claim is correct then the department of basic education is in no rush to confirm it. Until then the figure remains unproven.
Additional research by Debbie Budlender and Masutane Modjadji
Edited by Anim van Wyk
ANALYSIS: When school infrastructure data fails (2016)
How South Africa’s department of basic education is misleading the public (2013
Schools promised by Zuma have not been built (2013)