The Truth And Lies Of Zuma’s SONA 2017

The truth and lies of Zuma’s SONA 2017

Amidst unprecedented security measures, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma delivered his tenth State of the Nation Address on 9 February 2017. We fact-checked his speech.


  • Claim: “To date, nearly 7 million households have been connected to the grid and now have electricity.”

Verdict: Correct

South Africa’s development indicators showed that 6,340,321 households had been connected to the grid as of 2013/14. A further 233,455 were connected in 2014/15 and 231,012 were connected in 2015/16. Figures for 2016/17 have yet to be released.

Zuma’s claim is correct based on these figures. They show that a total of 6,804,788 households – nearly 7 million – were connected as of 31 March 2016.

As of 2016, 90,3% of South African households had access to electricity for lighting.


  • Claim: Among the participating countries [in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study] South Africa has shown the largest improvement of 87 points in mathematics and 90 points in science.

Verdict: Correct

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is conducted every 4 years and provides participating countries with the means to compare pupil performance in maths and science.

Grade 4 and Grade 8 pupils are tested in most of the countries that take part in the study. However, in South Africa Grade 5 and 9 pupils are tested.

The 2015 study found that South Africa’s Grade 9 pupils recorded the “biggest positive change”. There was an improvement of 90 points in science and 87 points in mathematics.

The report goes on to note that “South Africa started with very low performance scores in 2003 and this upward shift translates to an overall performance improvement by approximately two grade levels between 2003 and 2015”.

While South African Grade 9 pupils did record a large improvement, in comparison to other countries they fared badly. Out of the 39 countries assessed, South Africa’s Grade 9 students placed 38th for mathematics performance and 39th for science performance.


  • Claim: “In terms of the 2015 to 2016 information submitted to the Employment Equity Commission, the representation of whites at top management levels amounted to 72%, while African representation was at 10%. The representation of coloureds stood at 4.5%, and Indians 8.7%.”

Verdict: Incorrect

The commission for employment equity compiles an annual report on employment equity for the department of labour.

The data in the report is submitted once a year by designated employers, which include employers who employ 50 or more employees, employers who employ fewer than 50 employees but have a certain annual turnover, as well as municipalities, all levels of government, state-owned companies and educational institutions.

The 2015/16 annual report showed that 68.9% of top management workforce was white, 14.3% was black, 8.6% was Indian, 4.7% was coloured and 3.5% was foreign.

The breakdown of management levels by population group:

Top Management Senior Management Professionally qualified Skilled technical
Black 14.3% 21.2% 41.2% 58.8%
White 68.9% 58.1% 38.0% 22.0%
Indian 8.6% 10.2% 8.5% 5.9%
Coloured 4.7% 7.4% 9.4% 11.6%
Foreign 3.5% 3.1% 2.8% 1.7%

  • Claim: “The expanded public works program has since 2014 created more than 2 million work opportunities towards the attainment of the target of 6 million work opportunities by the end of March 2019.”

Verdict: Correct

Data from the expanded public works programme supports Zuma’s claim. Nearly 2.5 million job opportunities were created between 1 January 2014 and 31 December 2016.

Total work opportunities
1 April 2016 – 31 December 2016 497 624
1 April 2015 – 31 March 2016 741 540
1 April 2014 – 31 March 2015 1 103 983
1 January 2014 – 31 March 2014 154 965
Total 2 498 112

Work opportunities are not permanent jobs, however, and in most cases only last a few months.

The department of public works notes that “the same individual can be employed on different projects and each period of employment will be counted as a work opportunity”. So while nearly 2.5 million work opportunities were created, this does not mean that the same number of people benefited from the programme.


  • Claim: “Of the [more than 2 million] work opportunities created, more than 1 million have been taken up by the youth.”

Verdict: Correct

This claim followed on from Zuma’s previous statement, in which he said that “the expanded public works programme has since 2014 created more than 2 million work opportunities”.

Africa Check was unable to find fourth quarter figures for 2013/14. However, even without them, the expanded public works programme reports show that 1,129,516 job opportunities were filled by young people. This was 45% of all work opportunities over the period.

Total work opportunities for youth
1 April 2016 – 31 December 2016 222 587
1 April 2015 – 31 March 2016 340 663
1 April 2014 – 31 March 2015 566 265
1 January 2014 – 31 March 2014
Total 1 129 516

  • Claim: “White households earn at least 5 times more than black households, according to Statistics South Africa.”

Verdict: Mostly correct

Statistics South Africa’s 2014/15 Living Conditions of Households Survey reported that black African households had an average income of R92,983 per year. In comparison, white households had an average income R444,446 per year.

Based on these figures, white households’ income is on average 4.8 times more than black households.

Population Group Average annual household income
Black R92 983
Coloured R172 765
Indian/Asian R271 621
White R444 446
National Average R138 168

  • Claim: “…about 10,000 unemployed youth are being trained as plumbers, artisans and water agents”

Verdict: Unproven

In his 2015 State of the Nation Address, Zuma announced that 15,000 artisans, plumbers and water agents would be trained as part of the War on Leaks initiative.

The department’s 2015/2016 annual report noted that 3,000 artisans started training last year, while an additional 7,000 trainees were to join their ranks in August.

The department’s spokesman, Sputnik Ratau, was unable to confirm to Africa Check how many young people started training in August 2016.

However, he said the programme is still on-going and that a third intake of trainees would take place this year.


  • Claim: “Government is actively involved in the property sector, having provided more than 4 million houses since 1994.”

Verdict: Incorrect

Data from the department of human settlements shows that 2,835,275 houses were built by government between 1994/95 and 2013/14. A further 95,210 were built in 2014/15 and 100,339 were built in 2015/16. This brings the total number of houses delivered to 3,030,824 – around a million less than Zuma claimed.

It is possible that Zuma was referring to the delivery of both houses and serviced sites. This, however, is not a house. It is a piece of land, which should be supplied with water, electricity and sanitation, on which a recipient can build their own house.

When serviced sites are included, the number of “housing opportunities” delivered rises to 4,060,795 as of 2015/16.

However, concerns have been raised over the accuracy of the housing statistics. Experts caution that since the figures have not been independently verified they should be viewed as “indicative rather than entirely conclusive”.


  • Claim: “At the level of gender, at senior management level males remain dominant at 67.6% and females at 32.4%.”

Verdict: Correct

The commission for employment equity’s 2015/16 annual report showed that 67.6% of employees at senior management were men and 32.4% of employees were women.


Claim: “There has also been a 19% decline in households involved in agriculture from 2.9 million in 2011 to 2.3 million households in 2016.”

Verdict: Correct

The Agricultural Household section in Stats SA’s 2016 Community Survey shows that households involved in agriculture decreased from 2.88 million in 2011 to 2.33 million in 2015. The statistical agency indicated that the drop can be attributed to the drought between 2014 and 2015.

Using the unrounded figures, the drop is 17%, not 19%.


  • Claim: Our tourist arrival numbers for the period January to November 2016 increased to 9 million, an increase of just over 1 million arrivals from 2015. This represents a 13% growth in tourism arrivals.

Verdict: Correct

Statistics South Africa records the monthly tourist arrivals in South Africa. It downloads the data covering a specific calendar month from the department of home affairs.

The total number of tourist arrivals between January and November 2016 adds up to 9 million, as Zuma stated. (Note: Figures for December 2016 are yet to be released.)

Month 2013 2014 2015 2016
January 850 759 949 403 877 712 1 012 641
February 715 769 734 122 681 216 803 770
March 815 075 751 816 733 241 904 594
April 803 475 840 100 719 557 795 919
May 699 658 714 121 685 407 760 749
June 677 085 672 726 610 092 691 414
July 789 168 724 199 732 891 822 416
August 829 021 828 531 731 248 833 638
September 783 933 752 681 716 750 793 610
October 794 494 820 675 748 561 850 956
November 835 196 826 163 774 378 809 349
Total 8 593 633 8 614 537 8 011 053 9 079 056

During the same period in 2015, 8,011,05 tourists arrived in South Africa. The increase between 2015 and 2016 therefore is 13%.

However, arrivals in 2015 were much lower than the corresponding periods in 2014 and 2013, when more than 8.5 million tourists arrived between January and November in each year.


  • Claim: “Social grants now reach close to 17 million people, mainly older persons and children”

Verdict: Correct

A summary of social grants in South Africa published by the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) and released in mid-December 2016, shows that more than 17 million people were receiving a grant at that time.

Of those, 3,268,262 were recipients of the grant for older persons. By far the largest number of grants were for child support, with more than 12 million people receiving this type.

Grant Type Number
Old age grant 3 268 262
War veteran’s grant 190
Disability grant 1 079 496
Grant in aid 158 293
Child support grant 12 044 612
Foster child grant 398 774
Care dependency grant 144 704
Total 17 094 331

This article was first published on Africa Check

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