President Jacob Zuma. File picture: Sumaya Hisham

Africa Check looked into President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address live on Twitter and then zeroed in on claims to produce a series of spot checks. These are some of the most talked about.

Zuma’s one-school-a-week claim is false

He said his government had “opened at least one new school a week in the Eastern Cape last year”.

The claim is untrue.

Education officials staged ceremonial school “handovers” months after many of the schools opened their doors. At least two were declared open even though construction had not been completed.

Many schools promised by Zuma failed to materialise. At face value, Zuma’s claim seems to suggest that 52 schools were opened. That is not the case. The campaign only got off the ground more than halfway through the year. An official schedule indicated that 19 schools would be “handed over” by November.

Zuma’s crime stats selective and misleading

Zuma said “progress has been made in the past five years in reducing the level of serious crime such as murders”. “Some progress has been made over the past five years in reducing the levels of serious crime… but they remain unacceptably high. We will work to further reduce levels of crime.”

Speaking during the parliamentary debate, DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard said, “The truth is the murder rate went up last year, as did attempted murder, aggravated robbery, residential burglaries, fraud, car-jackings and theft from our motor vehicles. Stretching statistics from the past to try and twist today’s truth into a ‘good story’ is political claptrappery.”

Who is correct? Zuma or Kohler Barnard?

Last year Africa Check and the Institute for Security Studies published a factsheet analysing the 2012/13 crime statistics. It found that “violent crimes… increased in 2012/13. “For the first time in six years there is an increase in both the number and rate of murders and attempted murders,” it stated.

Incidents of murder increased from 15 609 murders in 2011/12 to 16 259 murders in 2012/13. There were also increases in the number of attempted murders, aggravated robbery, residential burglary, fraud, vehicle hijackings and theft from vehicles.

Kohler Barnard’s statement was correct. Averaged out over five years, crime statistics show an overall reduction, but Zuma’s statement failed to mention the most recent 2012/13 crime statistics which showed disturbing increases in violent crimes. As a result, the president’s remarks were selective and misleading.

DA uses discredited maths and science ranking

During the debate on Zuma’s address, Mmusi Maimane asked: “How does the department with the biggest budget from our national fiscus, and the biggest budget in Africa, deliver the worst maths and science education on the entire planet?”

The DA’s spokesman for International Relations and Co-operation, Stevens Mokgalapa, picked up the refrain in the State of the Nation debate: “Just under three weeks ago the World Economic Forum released a study that placed our maths and science results at last in the world.”

The World Economic Forum (WEF) report was not exactly a “study”. The rankings, which placed South Africa last out of 148 countries for the quality of maths and science education, were derived from an annual “Executive Opinion Survey”. It drew on interviews with unidentified “business leaders” who were asked to score the quality of education in their countries from “poor” to “excellent”. No standardised tests were conducted to assess the quality of maths and science education in schools.

Nic Spaull, a prominent education researcher, described the rankings as “subjective, unscientific, unreliable and lack(ing) any form of technical credibility or cross-national comparability”.

DA leader Helen Zille tweeted approval of Spaull’s article, stating: “A must read for those who believe that we came 148th out of 148 countries in Maths and Science.”

South Africa’s education system performs lower than many other low and middle-income countries. The Basic Education Department’s academic assessments revealed last year that just 3 percent of pupils in Grade 9 achieved more than 50 percent in maths. Concerns have also been expressed about the high drop-out rate. There is sufficient evidence to make the case that the education system is facing a crisis.

The DA director of communications, Gavin Davis, has told Africa Check that the party “takes accuracy very seriously and we will gladly rectify any mistakes”.

Lindiwe Sisulu cherry-picks housing stats (again)

Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said the delivery of houses to the poor in the Western Cape had fallen by 30 percent since the DA took control in 2009. In February, during the debate on Zuma’s pre-election State of the Nation address, Sisulu said, “The delivery of housing in the Western Cape (has) dropped by 25 percent since the DA took over.”

Historical data of provincial housing delivery from 1994 up until the 2012/13 financial year, which was provided to Africa Check by the Department of Human Settlements, appears to support Sisulu’s claim. An average of 17 925 houses were delivered each year in the Western Cape between 1994 and 2008. Delivery has dropped by about 24.5 percent.

But the statistics also show decreases in ANC-controlled provinces. Housing delivery dropped by 12.1 percent in the Eastern Cape, 15.7 percent in the Free State, 11.9 percent in KwaZulu-Natal, 31 percent in Gauteng and 27.7 percent in Mpumalanga. Housing delivery increased since 2009 in Limpopo (43.8 percent), the Northern Cape (28.6 percent) and North West (22.8 percent).

While Sisulu’s claims were correct, it was misleading of her to cherry-pick the data and ignore decreases in ANC-controlled provinces.

Claim that ANC has the ’mandate of 62 percent of all South Africans’ is false

Sisulu said the ANC won “the mandate of 62 percent of the people”. She said critics of the ANC “forget… that we… came here (to Parliament) on the mandate of 62 percent of the people”. She then said: “When the president speaks, he speaks on behalf of 62 percent of the voters”.

Sisulu’s claim is false. South Africa has a population of about 53 million. According to the national census, about 31.4 million people are eligible to vote. About 25.3 million people registered to vote, but only about 18.4 million voted. The ANC garnered 11.4 million votes. This equates to 22 percent of all South Africans voting for the ANC or 36 percent of eligible voters voting for the ANC.

Sisulu’s second statement referring to Zuma speaking on “behalf of 62 percent of the voters” is more accurate.

* This article first appeared on Africa Check (, a non-profit organisation run from the Journalism Department at the University of the Witwatersrand, which promotes accuracy in public debate, testing claims made by public figures on the continent.

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