FACTSHEET: South African service delivery in 1994 – what we do and don’t know

South African politicians often make claims about how access to water, electricity and sanitation has improved – or worsened – since 1994. This factsheet looks at the available data and explains its limitations.

Few could forget the images of long lines snaking towards polling stations across South Africa on 27 April 1994. The country’s first democratic election was a watershed moment and has become a point of reference for progress.

Comparisons about service delivery between 1994 and the present day often end up in Africa Check’s inbox. People want to know if political parties are right when they claim that the situation has improved – or worsened. But verifying these claims is not as straightforward as you might think.

We looked at three key topics we often get asked about: access to water, electricity, and sanitation in South Africa in 1994. Here’s what we do (and don’t) know.

Water

Statistics South Africa, or Stats SA, the country’s data agency, has collected some information on access to water over the years. For example, the 1995 October Household Survey found that 78.5% of households had access to clean water. This refers to piped water inside the dwelling or on site, or from a communal tap or tank. 

Ten percent of households accessed water from boreholes and rain water tanks, while 11.4% accessed water from rivers, streams and dams. 

But Niël Roux, manager of service delivery statistics at Stats SA, previously told Africa Check that the survey was “hamstrung by a series of methodological and practical issues”.

The 1996 census found that 81% of households had access to piped water. However, Roux previously warned that this number was not necessarily comparable with the figure for access to piped water in their more recent General Household Surveys. “Whereas access to water is asked in one question in the GHS, two questions are used in the census,” he said.

The GHS asks what the household’s main source of drinking water is. The census asks about access to piped water as well as the main source of water for household use. 

A smaller nationally representative survey, carried out by the Southern Africa Labour Development Research Unit (SALDRU) in late 1993 and early 1994, found that 76.4% of households had access to piped water. Almost 100% of white, coloured and Indian households had access, but only 67% of African (black) households.

Prof Ingrid Woolard, dean of the faculty of economic and management sciences at Stellenbosch University, previously told Africa Check that the survey was “fairly reliable, but small – less than 9,000 households – so there will be some margin of error”.

Sources on access to water in South Africa in the early 1990s
Year Source  Percentage 
1993/94 Project for Statistics on Living Standards and Development, SALDRU 76.4%
1995 October Household Survey, Stats SA 78.5%
1996 Census, Stats SA 81%

Note: It is recommended that you consult with Stats SA or an expert before comparing these figures with more recent statistics. 

Electricity 

The 1993 survey by SALDRU estimated that 54% of households had access to electricity from the national grid. It found that close to 100% of white households had access, but only 37% of African households.

According to Stats SA, their “earliest credible data” on electricity is the 1996 census, given the problems with the agency’s October 1995 Household Survey. 

The census found that in 1996 58% of households used electricity for lighting. Almost 48% used electricity for cooking while 46.5% used it for heating.  

Sources on access to electricity in South Africa in the early 1990s
Year Source  Percentage 
1993/94 Project for Statistics on Living Standards and Development, SALDRU 54%
1995 October Household Survey, Stats SA 63.5%
1996 Census, Stats SA 58%

Note: It is recommended that you consult with Stats SA or an expert before comparing these figures with more recent statistics. 

Sanitation

Sanitation refers to having access to a flush or chemical toilet. 

SALDRU’s 1993 survey found that 52% of households had access to flush toilets at the time. Almost 100% of white households had access, but only 34.2% of African households did. 

As with water and electricity, the 1996 census is Stats SA’s earliest reliable source of data on sanitation. It found that 51% (4.6 million out of 9.1 million) of households had access to flush or chemical toilets. Again, almost 100% of white households had access but only 34.1% of African households. 

Almost three million households used pit latrines in 1996. The remaining 1.6 million households either used buckets or had no access to sanitation at all. 

But because the census grouped households using flush and chemical toilets together, Stats SA said the figures were not comparable with the share of households with “improved sanitation” found in the General Household Survey.

Sources on access to sanitation in South Africa in the early 1990s
Year  Source  Percentage
1993/94 Project for Statistics on Living Standards and Development, SALDRU 52%
1995 October Household Survey, Stats SA 56.9%
1996 Census, Stats SA 51%

Note: It is recommended that you consult with Stats SA or an expert before comparing these figures with more recent statistics. 

 

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