FACT CHECK: ‘A better life for all?’ The ANC’s 2019 election manifesto
Researched by Liesl Pretorius
South Africa’s ruling political party, the African National Congress, launched its 2019 election manifesto in February.
Taglined “a people’s plan for a better life for all”, the manifesto contains a number of claims about progress in the country.
This report fact-checks five claims about school attendance, housing delivery, the minimum wage, spending on infrastructure and student aid.
What percentage of South African children attend school? The answer depends largely on the age groups included in the calculation.
In its manifesto, the ANC claims school attendance has increased from 51% to 99% since 1994. The party told Africa Check/City Press the information was sourced from Statistics South Africa’s (Stats SA) General Household Survey and the basic education department.
While children as young as five years can be admitted to Grade 1, school attendance is compulsory from age seven to 15, according to the department. Our fact-check, therefore, focuses on this age range.
The latest available data on school attendance is from Stats SA’s 2017 General Household Survey. In that year, 98.4% of children aged seven to 15 attended school. A breakdown shows an increase in attendance as children approach compulsory school-going age and a decrease as attendance is no longer compulsory.
ENROLLMENT HIGHER THAN 51% IN 1994
The 2008 report of the ministerial committee on learner retention in the South African schooling system contains calculations of school attendance as far back as 1994. The committee was appointed by the then minister of education, Naledi Pandor, “to conduct an investigation on the extent of retention and dropout in the schooling system”.
The enrolment rates for children aged seven to 15 in 1994 vary between 89.7% and 97.7%. This data was calculated using the 1994 October Household Survey. But Stats SA previously cautioned against using data from this survey because there were sampling and fieldwork issues. The agency pointed to the 1996 census as the earliest reliable data. In that year 89.3% of children aged seven to 15 were in school.
WHAT THE NUMBERS DON'T TELL US
But school attendance rates “alone do not capture the regularity of children’s school attendance or their progress through school”, according to last year’s SA Child Gauge report produced by the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town. “Similarly, school attendance rates tell us nothing about the quality of teaching and learning.”
We sent questions to basic education department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga regarding the department’s data on school attendance and the reason some children did not attend school.
He acknowledged receipt of the query but could subsequently not be reached by phone, SMS or email.
The government often refers to “housing opportunities” when reporting on delivery.
Housing opportunities and houses built are not the same because housing opportunities include serviced sites – plots of land – without houses.
The department of human settlements provided a breakdown of housing opportunities delivered from 1994 to last year. (The figures for April to December 2018 are preliminary.)
Houses built include subsidised houses, rental accommodation, hostel upgrades and council houses where ownership was granted. If both a serviced stand and a house are provided, these count as one housing opportunity.
Spokesperson Xolani Xundu said the Enhanced Extended Discount Benefit Scheme “provides state subsidies to repair and/or rehabilitate, and even demolish and rebuild where necessary, government [rental] houses built before 1994 and then transfer houses into the ownership of legitimate occupants”.
Asked about the source of the number in the claim, the ANC said the “more than 4.7 million” in fact referred to housing opportunities and not houses built. It said it would make this “clearer” in the online version of the manifesto.
The manifesto claims that “over” 14 million people benefited from the delivery of free houses.
If the number of housing opportunities provided (4.8 million) is multiplied by the average household size (3.3 according to the 2016 Community Survey), it comes to 15.8 million. However, it would not be correct to say that this number of people benefited from “free houses” because housing opportunities include serviced stands without houses.
Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at Wits University’s School of Architecture and Planning, previously told Africa Check that an uncritical celebration of numbers should be avoided.
She highlighted concerns such as the fact that “so many of these houses have been placed in very poor urban environments”, as well as the service-delivery burden placed on municipalities.
When the advisory panel on the national minimum wage considered the appropriate level for such a wage, it found that 6.2 million workers earned less than R3,500 a month, or R20 an hour.
It based its calculation on data from the 2014 Labour Market Dynamics in SA (LMDS) report and noted that this figure was an “overestimate” of workers earning less than R3,500 because it included workers who earned part-time salaries.
The LMDS report, which tracks labour market trends, is based on Stats SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey.
The National Minimum Wage Research Initiative at Wits University found that a national minimum wage – if set at an “appropriate and meaningful level” – could reduce poverty and inequality, while having a “minimal effect” on employment.
This conclusion was based, in part, on statistical modelling. Project coordinator and author of the research report Dr Gilad Isaacs said while the research was done in 2016 and the economy had since deteriorated, he would not expect dramatically different results if the exercise were to be repeated today.
Asked whether the current level of the national minimum wage was considered to be “appropriate and meaningful”, Isaacs said while it did not adequately “support bringing people out of poverty” because it had been set below the working poor line, it would have a large impact in terms of the number of workers affected.
The working poor are workers who earn less than R4,125 a month (at 2015 prices) and are unable to meet their and their dependants’ basic needs.
On a policy level, Isaacs said, concerns about the implementation of the national minimum wage included the fact that an annual increase was not guaranteed.
The ANC made two claims in its election manifesto about a decade’s worth of infrastructure spending.
The first stated that more than R2 trillion was spent in a decade. The second, which was contained in a graphic, claimed that R1.2 trillion was “invested in national infrastructure projects” in 10 years.
Asked about the discrepancy, the party’s national elections communications manager, Lerato Monethi, said the figure contained in the graphic was incorrect and would be corrected online. “The R1.2 trillion is for five years.”
IS THE R2 TRILLION ACCURATE?
According to annual amounts provided by National Treasury, infrastructure spending in the past 10 complete financial years, came to R2.3 trillion.
WHAT IS INCLUDED?
Included in these amounts are infrastructure spending at all levels of government, by state-owned enterprises and other public entities (for example, the Property Management Trading Entity in the national department of public works), as well as public funds spent as part of public-private partnerships.
National Treasury says capital items such as equipment, machinery and vehicles are excluded, while public housing, maintenance and repairs form part of the definition of infrastructure spend applied in this case.
In the 2017/18 financial year, most of the money was spent on transport and logistics, followed by energy, water and sanitation, and education.
Treasury confirmed that schools, clinics, roads and the freight logistics network were among these projects.
The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) did not exist in 1994.
In that year the Tertiary Education Fund of SA – its predecessor – funded 25,568 students to the tune of R70.5 million, said Nsfas spokesperson Kagisho Mamabolo.
Asked to provide the source of the “nearly R15 billion” in the ANC’s claim, national elections communications manager Lerato Monethi referred Africa Check/City Press to Nsfas.
The latest Nsfas annual report states that R14.1 billion was disbursed in student financial aid, benefiting 460,341 students in the financial year 2017/18.
We asked Mamabolo to provide a more recent figure for spend on student financial aid – for January to December last year. However, the number he provided (R22 billion) was a budgeted amount for disbursement and administration and not confirmed spend.
Therefore, the latest available number for support to students is the R14.1 billion in the annual report.
Mamabolo said the Nsfas funding had increased since 1994 because of an “increase in available academic spaces, in the funding budget and in matriculant candidates”.
MONEY WELL SPENT?
Professor Pierre de Villiers of the economics department at the University of Stellenbosch and his colleagues did a study of Nsfas-funded students who entered the higher education system from 2000 to 2004. “The most interesting finding was that the Nsfas students are, on average, more successful than the non-Nsfas students,” he said.
The study, which tracked the performance of individual students as they progressed through the system, found that a greater proportion of Nsfas-funded students obtained qualifications compared with their non-funded peers.
“Of the 2000 group that received Nsfas awards, 55% had qualifications and 38% had dropped out by the end of 2008. For non-Nsfas students, 48% had qualifications and 46% dropped out,” said De Villiers.
“One can add here that more than 71% of the funds spent on the 2000 group was spent on students who obtained a qualification.”
One of the contributing factors to the better performance of Nsfas students was that they were less likely to drop out because they had “a financial back-up”, he said.
An incentive that might have played a role was the fact that Nsfas students were able to convert portions of their loans into bursaries based on their academic performance, he said.
De Villiers said the researchers found students in the system who were still funded despite failing to obtain a qualification within nine years, which raised questions about the administration of Nsfas. “Nsfas helps but it’s not perfect,” he said.
Mamabolo said “valid and justifiable reasons” might exist for finding “a small minority of students in the system who had received funding for this period, however we cannot comment on this without exploring the relevant data”.