In the final instalment of Election Check, we look ahead at the challenges the new government will face after the country goes to the polls.
1. Who doesn’t have access to water, sanitation and electricity?
Close to two in 10 households (17%) headed by black people didn’t have access to grid electricity in 2017, according to data provided by Stats SA.
A greater proportion (22%) didn’t have access to improved sanitation in that year (see graphic).
Less than 1% of households headed by Indian/Asian people or white people were in the same position.
Thirteen percent of households headed by black people didn’t have access to “improved water” in 2017. This is tap water in a dwelling or yard, or water from a neighbour’s tap or public/communal tap, provided that it is less than 200m away.
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3 FAQs about SA's challenges
2. How big is the housing backlog?
In 1994, the housing white paper estimated that the urban housing backlog of 1.5 million units was increasing by 178 000 units a year as a result of population growth.
These numbers excluded serviced plots of land and hostels that needed upgrading.
More than 20 years on, Stats SA’s 2017 General Household Survey – the latest available edition – found that 2.2 million households lived in “makeshift structures not erected according to approved architectural plans, for example shacks or shanties in informal settlements or in back yards”.
The number is close to the backlog of 2.1 million units quoted by Human Settlements Minister Nomaindiya Mfeketo last year.
3. Does South Africa have the highest unemployment rate in the world?
Comparing countries’ unemployment rates isn’t straightforward. There is no single definition of unemployment and data collection methods may differ from country to country, but the available data puts South Africa among the poorest performers in the world.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development used a definition of unemployment similar to Stats SA’s to compare yearly rates in 41 countries: “Unemployed people are those who report that they are without work, that they are available for work and that they have taken active steps to find work in the previous four weeks.”
The rate in South Africa (27% last year) was the highest among these countries, followed by Greece (21%), Spain (15%), Italy (11%) and Turkey (11%). Japan’s unemployment rate was the lowest at 2%.
The International Labour Organisation, a UN agency, produces estimates of unemployment for 189 countries, territories and areas.
According to its estimates last year, South Africa ranked in the bottom two.
Only the Occupied Palestinian Territory (“the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip”) fared worse (see graphic).
The International Labour Organisation noted that the unemployment rate was a measure of unutilised labour supply and not of economic hardship or wellbeing.
It said the rate “says nothing about the economic resources of unemployed workers or their family members. Its use should, therefore, be limited to serving as a measurement of the utilisation of labour and an indication of the failure to find work. Other measures, including income-related indicators, would be needed to evaluate economic hardship.”
4. How many poor people are there in South Africa?
South Africa’s official national poverty lines were first published by Stats SA in 2012.
There are three measures of poverty:
- The food poverty line, also known as the extreme poverty line;
- The lower-bound poverty line; and
- The upper-bound poverty line.
The food poverty line is based on the daily calories a person needs to survive.
The threshold Stats SA uses is 2 100 calories – the UN’s minimum daily consumption requirement in emergency situations.
The lower- and upper-bound poverty lines both include non-food items. But in the lower measure, a person would need to “sacrifice food to obtain these”.
At the upper poverty line, Stats SA says, people are able to “purchase adequate food and non-food items”.
The amounts of money that set the monthly poverty line thresholds are adjusted to keep up with changes in the cost of living.
The current thresholds are:
- R547 (food poverty line);
- R785 (lower-bound poverty line); and
- R1 183 (upper-bound poverty line).
Poverty lines can seem arbitrary. For example, last year, a person living on R1 180 a month was considered to be living in poverty, while another spending R1 190 was not.
But academics have argued that a line has to be drawn somewhere if the extent of poverty is to be measured and tracked.
Stats SA’s Poverty Trends in SA report, which was released in August 2017, shows that a quarter of the population lived in extreme poverty in 2015. More than half the population (56%) was considered to be living in poverty as defined by the upper-bound poverty line.
The report says poverty levels declined from 2006 to 2011, but then increased in 2015 (see graphic).
5. Who wants land, and for what purpose?
Since 1994, a number of surveys have investigated the demand for land in South Africa. The findings include:
- Close to one in 10 black people who were not farmers wanted land where they could live and farm full time “even if I struggled”, according to a 2001 study commissioned by the Centre for Development and Enterprise. About 23% said they would like the land “if I could earn well”.
- A Human Sciences Research Council study conducted in 2004 and 2005 in Limpopo, the Free State and the Eastern Cape found that 42% of residents wanted or needed additional land. Most people wanted the land to grow food.
- In 2006 and 2007, a study in the Western Cape of black and coloured residents of five rural towns, and of farm workers, found that 75% of the households needed land. Most wanted a hectare or less.
- A 2015 survey commissioned by the SA Institute of Race Relations estimated that 37% of adults would prefer to get farm land from government. Most of the respondents (58%) said they would prefer to get urban land.
- This package is part of a journalism partnership with Africa Check, the continent’s leading fact-checking organisation. The project aims to ensure that claims made by those in charge of state resources and delivering essential services are factually correct. In the run-up to this year’s national and provincial elections it is particularly important that voters are able to make informed decisions. This series aims to provide voters with the tools to do that. The Raith Foundation contributed to the cost of reporting.