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‘Democracy’s child’: fact-checking South African president Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2024 state of the nation address

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‘Democracy’s child’: fact-checking South African president Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2024 state of the nation address

Africa Check

9th February 2024

By: Africa Check

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In a marked departure from recent years, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa's eighth state of the nation address started on time, helped in no small part by a boycott by the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters.

With some polls showing the African National Congress (ANC) facing the battle of its political life to retain an outright majority in upcoming national elections, Ramaphosa sought to rally voters by drawing on the party's 30-year record in office.

To do this, Ramaphosa used the life story of "democracy's child" Tintswalo - who the president said was born at the dawn of freedom in 1994. Tintswalo, he said, had benefited from free health care, lived in one of the "millions of houses" built to house the poor, and had access to basic water and electricity that her parents did not.

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She had also been enrolled in a no-fee school where she received free meals, was funded by the state through tertiary education and once working, benefited from employment equity and black economic empowerment policies.

But was the president on the money with all his claims of progress? We took a closer look.

Note: We will be updating this report as we continue to compare more of the claims with the facts - so be sure to check back with us.

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Claim: “[The child support grant] together with other forms of social assistance continues to be a lifeline for more than 26-million South Africans every month.”

Verdict: Incorrect

Social assistance programmes such as grants aim to alleviate poverty, reduce economic inequality and ensure a minimum standard of living for individuals and families in need.

The South African Social Services Agency (Sassa) administers and pays out such social benefits, including pensions and child support grants, to citizens.

December 2023 is the last month for which Sassa has published data on the number of grants provided each month. At the end of that month, 13 067 314 child support grants were provided.

The child support grant is the largest social grant, and including other grants, Sassa reported that a total of 18 890 995 grants had been paid out to beneficiaries by the end of December.

There is one grant that is not included here: the Covid-19 social relief of distress (or SRD) grant that has been paid out to beneficiaries since May 2020. A person can only qualify for this grant if they are not already receiving another form of state support.

Simon Netshifhefhe, Sassa’s senior manager for grants projection, reporting and monitoring, told Africa Check that 7 690 106 SRD grants were paid in March 2023 (the most recently reported data). Combined with the 18 829 716 other grants paid in March 2023, this means just over 26.5-million grants were paid in that month.

But this is only the number of grants paid out. It is not the number of people who received a grant.

Ramaphosa mistakes grants for recipients

While the SRD grant is an exception, some social grant recipients may receive more than one grant. For example, someone could receive both a child support grant as well as a disability grant.

Sassa reported that nearly 19-million grants given in December 2023 went to a total of 11 853 781 beneficiaries. In March, there were 11 744 259 beneficiaries, meaning that a total of just over 19.4-million individuals received a grant in that month.

This is a common error that Africa Check has corrected in the past. As a result of this mistake, Ramaphosa overestimates the number of beneficiaries by more than six-million people.

Claim: “In the midst of the pandemic, we introduced the special SRD Grant, which currently reaches some 9-million unemployed people every month.”

Verdict: Incorrect

The Covid-19 social relief of distress (or SRD) grant has been paid out to beneficiaries since May 2020. It pays R350 per month to beneficiaries provided that they do not already receive another form of government assistance.

The grant is also overseen by Sassa but is not reported alongside other grants in the agency’s regular statistical publications.

As reported in the above claim, Simon Netshifhefhe, Sassa’s senior manager for grants projection, reporting and monitoring, told Africa Check that 7 690 106 SRD grants had been paid in March 2023, the most recent data reported.

A higher number of grants, (8 452 917) were approved that month, but not all were paid.

This figure is slightly lower than the “8.5-million” beneficiaries given in Sassa’s 2022/23 annual report, suggesting that these figures have since been revised.

Claim: “The number of South Africans who are in employment has increased from 8-million in 1994…”

Verdict: Understated

Ramaphosa also made this claim during the ANC’s annual January 8th statement on 13 January. At the time, Africa Check rated it as an underestimate as Statistics South Africa’s now defunct October Household Survey estimated there 8.9-million people were employed in 1994.

While that survey has been criticised for under-representing black respondents, it surveyed 30 000 households, and included the nominally independent black “homelands” or Bantustans in national statistics for the first time.

By using a lower starting point, Ramaphosa again exaggerated the progress made since 1994.

Claim: “...to 16.7-million today”

Verdict: Misleading

The October Household Survey was conducted annually until 1999, when it was replaced by the Labour Force Survey. According to the latest release from Stats SA, covering July to September 2023, an estimated 16.745-million people were employed.

But comparing this figure with historical employment numbers is not straightforward, Dr Neva Makgetla, senior economist at the Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies research institute, previously told Africa Check.

She explained that while the raw number of employed people has increased, so has the working-age population, from 24.6-million in 1994 to 40.9-million today. A more accurate way of looking at the situation, Makgetla said, was in terms of the ratio of those in employment to the working-age population. The ratio was 41% in 2023, roughly the same as in 1994.

Claim: “Our economy today is three times larger than what it was 30 years ago.”

Verdict: Misleading

The size of a country’s economy is often measured by its gross domestic product (GDP). This is the value of all the goods and services produced in a given period, usually a year.

The World Bank has data on South Africa’s GDP going back to 1960.

It shows that the country’s nominal GDP, which does not take into account inflation over the years, grew 2.6 times from US$153.51-billion in 1994 to $405.27-billion in 2022. (Note: 2023 GDP figures are not yet available.)

But it’s important to separate real economic growth from inflation.

World Bank data based on constant or real GDP (which removes the effect of inflation) shows that the country’s economy grew 1.9 times from $187.38-billion in 1994 to $360.71-billion in 2022.

Claim: “Through [the Presidential Employment Stimulus], we have been able to create more than 1.7-million work and livelihood opportunities.”

Verdict: Correct

The Presidential Employment Stimulus (PES) was launched in October 2020 to mitigate the economic damage of the Covid-19 pandemic. The programme provides funding for the creation of new jobs and financial support for jobs and livelihoods that would otherwise have been lost.

The most recent update of the programme, published in February 2024, says that it has provided 1 762 749 “jobs and livelihood opportunities” since inception.

It is not clear how many of these are new jobs, as the PES website does not yet include a breakdown of the recently released update.

Kate Philip, programme lead for the PES initiative, told Africa Check that the website was “about to be updated” to reflect the latest data.

Claim: “Less than half of all households had internet access in 2011, compared to 79% of households in 2022.”

Verdict: Incorrect

Ramaphosa said that internet access had “risen dramatically” over the past decade and gave figures to support his claim.

Stats SA tracks internet access in its general household surveys. The latest survey shows that 34.4% of households had access in 2011. By 2022, the figure had increased to 75.3%.

These figures include access by any means, such as through work, public wifi, internet cafes and educational facilities.

The percentage of households with internet access at home was 10.2% in 2011. By 2022, it had risen to 13%. As Stats SA points out, this percentage “remained relatively stable between 2010 and 2021”.

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Source: Stats SA’s 2022 general household survey

This report was written by Africa Check., a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website.

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