Zuma vows to shield poor from downturn
Cape Town - Fighting poverty and job creation are his government's main focus, but the recession will temper its ambitions, President Jacob Zuma warned on Wednesday.
"The economic downturn will affect the pace at which our country is able to address the social and economic challenges it faces," he said in his first State of the Nation address.
"But it will not alter the direction of our development."
Zuma vowed to shield the poor from the fallout of South Africa's first recession in 17 years, and to act both to save jobs and create new opportunities.
"We must act now to minimise the impact of this downturn on those most vulnerable."
He said workers who were facing retrenchment would be kept on for a period and retrained to do other work.
In addition, companies in distress would be assisted by the Industrial Development Corporation, while government would bolster key industries in a "scaled up Policy Action Plan".
Apart from those industries already earmarked for support - including the automobile, chemical, metal fabrication, tourism, clothing and textiles, and forestry sectors - government would also turn its attention to services, light manufacturing and construction in a bid to create jobs.
"The creation of decent work will be at the centre of our economic policies, and influence our investment attraction and job-creation initiatives."
Zuma said government would ensure that plans to spend R787bn on infrastructure were properly implemented.
The Expanded Public Works Programme was the main instrument he cited for creating jobs, though critics say these will not be sustainable.
Zuma said government hoped it would employ half a million extra people by the end of the year, and four million by 2014.
"Between now and December 2009, we plan to create about 500 000 job opportunities."
To stimulate the local economy, Zuma pledged to "reduce the regulatory burden on small businesses", and to implement a single, integrated business registration system to make doing business in South Africa simpler and cheaper.