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SONA 2015: Key claims fact-checked

Here is the first of two reports fact-checking key claims in President Jacob Zuma’s eighth State of the Nation Address.

Researched by Africa Check


What Zuma said: “[T]he situation is more promising on the jobs front. Two days ago, Stats SA released the employment figures for the last quarter of 2014. The report shows that there are now 15.3-million people who are employed in South Africa. Jobs grew by 203,000.”

Our verdict: Correct on the numbers, but lacking context

Zuma is right on the numbers. The latest employment data from Stats SA shows that from October to December 2014 an additional 203,000 people were employed compared to July to September last year. This brought the total number of those employed to 15.32-million. The number of unemployed people decreased by 242,000.

But his claim lacks context. In his speech Zuma compared the third and fourth quarters of 2014.

The acting executive manager of labour statistics at Stats SA, Desiree Manamela, told Africa Check that Stats SA stresses the importance of focusing on year-on-year trends and not quarterly comparisons.

“The trend in labour market data shows that seasonal factors result in an increase in employment during the 4th quarter [October to December] of every year. This is ahead of the planting season for many crops and also the festive period during which retailers hire additional staff. Thus many of the jobs created in this quarter would have been temporary in nature,” she said.

“Because the data is not seasonally adjusted year-on-year change… estimates would provide for a better trend analysis.”

A year-on-year comparison of the fourth quarters of 2013 and 2014 show that employment still increased but only by 143,000 and the number of unemployed people actually increased by 79,000.

Dr Nicolas Pons-Vignon, a senior researcher at Wits University’s School of Economic and Business Sciences, told Africa Check that it was important to look at other long-term trends, such as the unemployment rate, which Zuma didn’t mention. Stats SA data shows that the narrow unemployment rate increased by 0.2% to 24.3% between the fourth quarters of 2013 and 2014.

“South Africa has an incredibly high unemployment rate – one of the highest in the world,” said Pons-Vignon. “This trend hasn’t changed. There was a little reduction in unemployment during the growth years of the early 2000s but it was very minimal. Overall unemployment has been very high since the 1990s.”


What Zuma said: “We are making progress in fighting crimes against women and children. The SAPS Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Investigation Unit has secured 659 life sentences against perpetrators of crimes against women and children.”

Our verdict: Misleading and lacking context

A reference to the 659 life sentences can be found on page 10 of an analysis of national crime statistics prepared by police as part of their 2013/14 annual report. The numbers cannot be independently verified.

To put the number in context, there were 45,230 crimes against children under 18 years reported to police in 2013/14 including 22,781 “sexual offences”, 846 murders, 869 attempted murders and 11,104 cases of assault with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm. There were 169,559 crimes against women aged 18 or older reported in the same year, including 29,261 “sexual offences”, 2,354 murders, 2,651 attempted murders and 80,672 cases of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

According to the 2013/14 crime statistics the broad category of “sexual offences” has seen an 11.2% decrease since 2008/9. But the decrease in sexual offences statistics has been questioned and cannot be taken to mean that police are being more effective.

As we pointed out in a factsheet on the most recent crime statistics, “police are expected to reduce violent crime by between 4% and 7% per year”. “This creates a disincentive for police to record all violent crimes reported to them. If victims are encouraged to report rape, and the police indeed record all these reports, the number of recorded rapes will increase.”

Said Lizette Lancaster, head of the Crime and Justice Hub at the Institute for Security Studies: “Higher reporting rates will be achieved only if the public believe that most crimes will result in arrests and successful convictions without causing victims and their families any further trauma.”

Research conducted in Gauteng province in 2010 by Gender Links and the Medical Research Council suggested that only “[o]ne in 13 women raped by a non-partner reported the matter, while a scant one in 25 women raped by their partners reported the matter to police”.

A national study published by the Medical Research Council in 2002 “found that only one in nine women who had been raped and also had physical force used against them reported the attack to police”.

Not all rapes and sexual offences are going to result in life prison sentences. In fact, many don’t. And many are never prosecuted.

Figures released in February 2013 by the Gauteng province’s Member of the Executive Council for Community Safety, Faith Mazibuko, showed that 23,086 rapes were reported to police in the province between 2010/2011 and the third quarter of 2012/2013. Of that number, only 55.59% of cases were referred to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for prosecution. The NPA, in turn, sent 8,220 cases back to the police for further investigation. At least 8,870 cases were thrown out of court due to incomplete investigations and only 1,910 cases (about 8.2% of the total number reported in that period) resulted in successful convictions.

Zuma’s single reference to 659 life sentences handed down to perpetrators of “crimes against women and children” is not a meaningful measure of success and ignores the immense scale of the problem.


What Zuma said: “The construction of the three new power stations Kusile, Medupi and Ingula, will add 10,000 MW of capacity to the national grid.”

Verdict: Somewhat misleading

President Zuma’s emphasis on solving the country’s energy constraints bolstered electricity-starved South Africans. However, the country is currently building two power stations, not three as stated in his address.

Consulting electrical engineer Terry Mackenzie-Hoy explained: “Ingula [situated between KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State] is a pump storage scheme, not a power station. It can assist with load peaks but the power supplied to the grid has to be pumped back into the scheme.”

This means that Ingula’s four 333 MW generators (1332 MW) will not contribute to South Africa’s base-load capacity, as it is not able to produce energy at a constant, or near constant, rate.

Kusile (six 800MW units) and Medupi (six 794MW units) will however add 9,564 MW to the base-load capacity, according to Eskom figures.

What Zuma said: “There are still 3.4 million households in the country without electricity”

Verdict: No reliable data

Frankly, the numbers are a mess, as we reported earlier, and it depends on who you ask.

If you use figures provided the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation in the Presidency, then Zuma’s claim was correct – in 2012. That is the last year for which they provided development indicators.

However, if you ask the Department of Energy, their records point to a total of 2.2-million households without electricity in June 2013. This is the most recent figure available. According to their figures around 85.3% of households are connected to the electricity grid, against a 2014 target of 92%.

Why the big discrepancy? We have sent a query to the department of energy and will update this report when they respond.

Land Reform

What Zuma said: “Foreign nationals will not be allowed to own land in South Africa but will be eligible for long term lease. In this regard, the Regulation of Land Holdings Bill will be submitted to Parliament this year.”

Verdict: No further details

Judging by the calls to radio stations and the reaction on social media, many South Africans were shocked by the president’s announcement that foreigners will not be allowed to own land in South Africa in future.

Does this mean foreign-owned land will soon be expropriated?

Details of the Regulation of Land Holdings Bill are sketchy at this stage as the proposed bill is “probably still being drafted”, said Judith February, a political commentator and senior associate at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

We can however glean information from comments made by the minister of land reform and rural development, Gugile Nkwinti. He announced the planned bill in July last year in parliament.

Under the bullet point “Land owned by foreign nationals” he stipulated that the bill would provide for:

  • No ownership of land by foreign nationals as a principle.
  • Convert current ownership into long term lease after a land audit has been finalised.

Subsequently Nkwinti was quoted saying: “[I]t is possible that we could experience difficulties making the law retrospective on this question”.

If the bill goes through, there will likely be a future cut-off date after which foreigners would be barred from buying South African property. Instead, they would have the option of leases running “for a minimum of 30 years”.

Neither Nkwinti’s spokesman, Mtobeli Mxotwa, nor the department’s spokesman, Sehloho Mphati, responded to calls or messages today.

But it is not only foreigners who are likely to be affected by the proposed bill. The Regulation of Land Holdings Bill intends to require all property buyers to disclose their gender and race, in addition to nationality.

“My thoughts are that the race registration is deeply regressive, potentially very dangerous, and also difficult to implement… shades of the old pencil test by bureaucrats?” said Cherryl Walker, professor of sociology at the University of Stellenbosch and author of Landmarked: Land Claims and Land Restitution in South Africa.

For all the drama of President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation Address and more fact-checks, check out the blow-by-blow report we published on the night.

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