SONA debate 2016: Who got their facts right and who got it wrong

 ·20 Feb 2016

South African members of parliament spent two days debating President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address.

Africa Check fact-checked claims made by MPs in the debate as they were made.

Mmusi Maimane, leader of the opposition

Claim: There are “8.3 million jobless people” in South Africa.

Our verdict: Correct

Maimane’s claim is correct according to the broad definition of unemployment. This includes people who are unemployed and looking for a job and discouraged job-seekers (people who are unemployed but not looking for work).

South Africa’s latest quarterly labour force survey revealed that there were 8,304,000 unemployed people (broadly defined) in South Africa in July to September of 2015. – Kate Wilkinson


Lindiwe Sisulu, minister of human settlements

Claim: “In 1996 there were 3.4 million families residing in formal housing but by 2014 that number had increased to 9.4 million… An increase of 6 million houses that have been provided by this government.”

Our verdict: Incorrect

In 1996 there were 5,794,386 families living in formal dwellings in South Africa according to the presidency’s development indicators – not 3.4 million as Sisulu claimed.

By 2014 an estimated 12,386,953 families were living in formal houses, an increase of just over 6.5 million.

But not all of these houses were provided by government, as Sisulu claimed. The department of human settlements’ own data shows that between 1996/97 and 2014/15 they had delivered 2,795,256 houses. – Kate Wilkinson


Claim: “In 1994 just over half of households had electricity, now 85% do.”

Our verdict: Correct

A national survey by the Southern Africa Labour Development Research Unit between 1993 and 1994 estimated that 53.6% of households had access to electricity.

The latest data from Statistics South Africa shows that 86% of South African households had access to mains electricity in 2014. Statistics for 2015 will be released later this year. – Kate Wilkinson

Informal trader

Julius Malema, Economic Freedom Fighters leader

Claim: “More than 26 million” people in South Africa live in absolute poverty.

Our verdict: Correct

“Absolute poverty” generally refers to a specific income threshold below which people would be unable meet their basic needs.

Statistics South Africa has three absolute poverty lines which capture different degrees of poverty, lecturer at Stellenbosch University’s economics department, Marisa von Fintel, told Africa Check.

“The food poverty line captures their estimate of what is required in terms of food intake in order to survive, while the lower and upper bounds include the cost of other basic living requirements,” Von Fintel explained.

Malema’s claim is correct when we look at the upper bound poverty line.

The upper bound poverty line was R779 per person per month in 2011. Statistics South Africa estimated that 27,117,973 people (53.8% of the population) fell below this income threshold that year. At this level someone is considered to be living in poverty but able to buy the necessary food and non-food items they need.

There were 18,632,646 people living under the lower bound poverty line, which in 2011 was R501 per person per month. Below this level someone does not have enough income to buy both enough food and non-food items. As a result they will have to go hungry to pay for things like clothing, shelter, transportation or education.

In 2011, 10,944,089 people were living below the food poverty line, which equalled R335 per person per month. Someone under this line cannot afford enough food to meet their basic energy requirements of 2,100 calories per day. – Kate Wilkinson

Food drought crop

Bheki Cele, deputy minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries

Claim: “[The agricultural] sector is currently facing the worst drought ever recorded in the history of South Africa.”

Our verdict: Unproven

South Africa received the lowest average rainfall between January and December 2015 since 1904 – a total of 403 mm, according to the South African Weather Service.

The lack of rainfall has caused agriculture to suffer. As Cele said, South Africa will now have to import maize in order to meet local demand.

However, receiving the lowest rainfall on record does not automatically mean the current drought is the worst South Africa has ever experienced. That is because lack of rainfall is only one of the factors that lead to a drought.

Professor at the Wits Global Change and Sustainability Research Institute, Bob Scholes, told Africa Check that it is therefore still too early to measure the drought’s severity or compare it to previous ones. Professor of agrometeorology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Michael Savage added that more research will need to be carried out to measure the extent of the drought. – Lebohang Mojapelo

Unemployment line

Phumzile Van Damme, Democratic Alliance spokesman

Claim: “The unemployment rate amongst our youth is more than twice that of adults.”

Our verdict: Correct

In South Africa the “youth” are people aged between 15 and 34.

Using Statistics South Africa’s quarterly labour force survey data, Africa Check calculated that 35.8% of people aged 15 to 34 were unemployed between July and September 2015. In comparison, 16.6% of people aged 35 to 64 were unemployed.

The broad unemployment rate – which includes unemployed people and discouraged job seekers – showed a similar trend. Youth unemployment was 46.1%, while 23.2% of people aged 35 to 64 were jobless.

By Kate Wilkinson, AfricaCheck

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