Non-profit organisation Africa Check aims to promote accuracy in public debate and the media, by scrutinising claims made by public figures, not only in South Africa but across the continent. Using journalistic skills and evidence drawn from the latest online tools, readers, public sources and experts, Africa Check strives to distinguish fact from fiction.
The organisation’s latest analysis involves President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address (Sona), which was delivered not even a week ago but has already gained infamy because of the scuffle in the National Assembly, which ended in three parties walking out of the speech.
Zuma alluded vaguely to the government’s efforts to fight corruption, and Africa Check has taken a good look at this part of the speech to ascertain whether the president was giving us the whole story. Read the conclusion below, as well as a look at other parts of Zuma’s speech focusing on unrest, youth employment and school infrastructure.
The claim: “We are a democratic state and recognise the community’s right to protest. We however appeal that these protests should be within the ambit of the law and must be peaceful as stated in the Constitution. The police successfully brought under control 13 575 recorded public order incidents, comprising 1 907 unrest-related and 11 668 peaceful incidents.”
Our verdict: The accuracy of the data cannot be independently verified
The figures Zuma cited were taken from the South African Police Service Incident Registration Information System (IRIS) database as contained in the 2013/14 police annual report.
According to the police’s analysis of 2013/14 crime statistics, “We successfully policed and stabilised 13 575 recorded public order incidents, including 1 907 unrest-related and 11 668 peaceful incidents.” That works out to five unrest-related incidents a day.
But the accuracy of the IRIS system has been called into question. According to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), the “methodology used to collect the statistics generated by SAPS IRIS is unclear; as is the level of detail of each incident”.
Lizette Lancaster, head of the Crime and Justice Hub at the ISS, told Africa Check the collection of statistics on public order incidents “is not audited and doesn’t follow the same processes used to verify the crime statistics”.
“We don’t know how these incidents are recorded and as far as we can tell the collection of data is very ad-hoc. And like all other crime statistics, they are not independently audited or verified.”
Peaceful public order incidents include everything from small town fetes where police are deployed, to rock concerts, sports events, political rallies and legal demonstrations.
According to Lancaster, the number of incidents reported are of concern because there is “not enough police capacity on the ground to deal with unrest incidents, it consumes a huge amount of resources and this detracts from ordinary crime prevention operations”. Crime categories that people fear most have increased over the past two years.
The claim: “The fight against corruption continues to be taken forward by the Anti-Corruption Inter-Ministerial Committee. Government has in place seven anti-corruption institutions and 17 pieces of legislation which are intended to combat corruption. This demonstrates a concerted effort by government to break the back of this scourge in the country. In the 2013/14 financial year, 52 persons were convicted in cases involving more than R5-million. Thirty one public servants were convicted in the first quarter of 2014/15 and freezing orders to the value of R430-million were obtained.”
Our verdict: Underplays public concerns about corruption and lacks context
Once again Zuma’s comments appear to be correct on the numbers but lacking in context. Corruption Watch, a non-profit established in 2012 to track corruption in South Africa, said Zuma’s speech “dithered around the topic that has many South Africans concerned about the future of his government”.
Many South Africans clearly don’t believe the president’s claim that there is a “concerted effort” to crack down on corruption. Perceptions of corruption in government have been increasing steadily since 2002. According to a paper published by the ISS, the heart of the problem “lies in the lack of accountability for maladministration and corruption”.
“Corruption Watch states that this problem starts with the President – while there are various efforts by the government to tackle corruption, ‘these actions were countered by the continuing impunity on the part of those who were politically and financially powerful’.
According to Statistics South Africa’s 2013/14 Victims of Crime Survey, which was published in December: “More than 70% of households believed that corruption had increased during the period 2010–2013. Over three-quarters of households thought people were involved in corruption to get rich quickly (76.9%). Bribes were commonly paid in order to speed up procedures (37.9%), followed by receiving better treatment (23%) and to avoid traffic fines.”
There are at least eleven agencies in South Africa that have a mandate to investigate corruption.
But a number of key anti-corruption institutions are in turmoil. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is without a permanent head following the resignation of Vas Soni in January. The Hawks – who are meant to investigate organised crime and corruption cases – has reportedly been plunged into disarray with the suspension of its head, Anwa Dramat. There are also concerns about the independence of the National Prosecuting Authority.
The South African Revenue Service (SARS) is under pressure with the suspensions of key managers amid allegations of a “rogue investigations unit”. Some have argued that SARS is being “purged” as a result of politically sensitive investigations into Zuma’s cousin Khulubuse and the holding up of a multi-million rand consignment of ANC election t-shirts. SARS have denied the allegations.
Then there is what has been described as the “neopatrimonial” character of the Zuma presidency and accusations that the president has surrounded himself with loyal acolytes who will protect him at any cost. Add to this the controversy over the president’s R250-million Nkandla homestead and demands by opposition parties that he “pay back the money”.
The claim: “Our investment in youth employment is also paying off. The Employment Tax Incentive [ETI] which was introduced last year directed mainly at the youth, is progressing very well. R2-billion has been claimed to date by some 29 000 employers, who have claimed for at least 270 000 young people.”
Our verdict: Cannot be independently verified
South Africa’s youth are in a dire situation. Recently released data from Stats SA shows that nearly half (48.8%) of all people aged 15 to 24 are unemployed according to the narrow definition of unemployment. According to the broad definition of unemployment (which includes people that want to work but are not actively searching for a job as they have lost hope, want to work but can’t find jobs in the area or are unable to find work that requires their skills) 63.6% are unemployed.
The Employment Tax Incentive (ETI) came into effect on 1 January 2014. It encourages employers to hire new, young and less experienced people aged between 18 and 29 by lowering the cost of employing them through a cost-sharing mechanism with government.
The incentive is administered by the South African Revenue Service’s (SARS) payroll system but SARS was unable to provide any evidence to support the claim. “The info in the SONA speech comes from SARS numbers. There is no publicly available documentation, since the figures come from tax returns on the SARS system,” Marika Muller, SARS deputy spokesperson, told Africa Check.
Zuma’s claim that the incentive is “progressing well” is questionable in light of a new study. A recent report released by the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit found that the ETI “did not have any statistically significant and positive effects on youth employment probabilities”. The study only looked at the first six months of 2014.
Discussing his findings, co-author of the study associate professor Vimal Ranchhod pointed out that although employers may be claiming tax relief for 270 000 employees this did not necessarily mean that 270 000 new jobs were created since 1 January 2014. He said that a portion of those young people would have been employed without the introduction of the ETI through normal turnover and job creation. In those cases employers would receive tax relief for people that they would have employed normally.
Professor Imraan Valodia, Dean of Commerce, Law and Management at Wits University, told Africa Check it was too early to comment on the success of the ETI: “I think the overwhelming evidence on the ETI is that it is much too early to tell [if it is progressing well]. While it is pleasing to see employers taking up the scheme we really don’t yet know whether they are simply replacing older workers with younger workers.”
The claim: “Through the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative [ASIDI] which is part of the national infrastructure plan, 92 schools have been completed to date and 108 are under construction. About 342 schools have received water for the first time. Three hundred and fifty one schools have received decent sanitation while 288 have been connected to electricity.”
Our verdict: Unverified and lacking context
ASIDI is a school building programme undertaken by the department of basic education to replace unsafe and “inappropriate” school structures and connect schools to basic services.
ASIDI identified 496 schools that were considered “inappropriate structures”. Fifty schools were meant to be replaced in 2011/12, 100 schools in 2012/13 and 346 schools in 2013/14. The ASIDI programme is far behind its target. The 92 schools mentioned by Zuma should have been delivered during 2012/13. By March last year 496 should have been completed.
The connection of schools to basic services is also behind target. By 2012/13 1 257 schools should have been connected to water, 878 schools connected to electricity and 868 schools connected to sanitation.
The department of basic education’s spokesman, Elijah Mahlangu, told Africa Check that Zuma’s numbers were correct. We requested the names and the completion dates of the schools but have yet to receive them. We will update this report if and when we receive them.
Zukiswa Kota, an education researcher at the Public Service Accountability Monitor, told Africa Check that fact-checking ASIDI figures was problematic. “It is very difficult to monitor the performance of ASIDI and its milestones. No one really at this point can say what the correct figures are because no one has conducted a physical check of all the schools. Not even Parliament,” she said.
She said that there was also confusion about the actual completion dates of the schools – when teaching and learning commenced. Africa Check highlighted this problem in a previous report.