Zuma promises action, jobs
Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma promised accelerated government delivery and a new focus in industrial policy to spur growth and job creation on Thursday as he delivered his second State of the Nation address since taking power last May.
"This year, 2010, shall be a year of action," Zuma said in the speech to Parliament coinciding with the 20th anniversary of former president Nelson Mandela's historic release from prison.
He said government planned to build labour absorbing industries and pledged, in a nod to financial markets, to keep in place economic rescue measures implemented last year, because the pace of recovery from the country's first recession in 17 years was an unknown quantity.
"Economic indicators suggest that we are now turning the corner. Economic activity is rising in South Africa and we expect growth going forward... It is too soon though to be certain of the pace of recovery. Government will therefore not withdraw its support measures."
Target 97% met
Zuma revisited his promise made last May to create half a million job opportunities and contradicted the widely-held view that government had failed to make good on it.
He stressed that these were "not jobs in the mainstream economy" but temporary positions meant to provide jobless people with "an income, work experience and training opportunities".
"We are pleased to announce that by the end of December, we had created more than 480 000 public works job opportunities, which is 97% of the target we had set."
He said the jobs were in construction, community-based care and environmental projects and government had identified scope to create more work opportunities through labour intensive projects and the expansion of public employment programmes.
Industrial action plan
Zuma alluded but briefly to government's much-awaited revamped industrial policy action plan, which sources in the presidency said was approved by cabinet on Wednesday and would be introduced to Parliament by Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies before month's end.
"Our Industrial Policy Action Plan and our new focus on green jobs, will build stronger and more labour absorbing industries," he said.
Zuma reiterated his administration's ambitions to get down to business on bettering education and healthcare, fighting crime and focusing on rural development.
He said the state would press ahead with plans to introduce rigorous school inspections, strive to improve literacy and numeracy by 20% by 2014 and reintroduce health programmes in schools.
The president, whose speech comes amid criticism that his sexual conduct has set back the fight against Aids, said his government is acutely aware that life expectancy has dropped by 10 years since the advent of democracy and would implement all measures to fight HIV announced in December.
Housing was among the few areas where Zuma spelled out specific measures to hasten delivery.
He announced plans to allocate 6 000 hectares of "well-located public land" for low-income housing and to set up a guarantee fund worth one billion rand to "incentivise the private banking and housing sector" to put roofs over more heads.
After nine months in power, marked by often violent service delivery protests, Zuma exhorted municipalities to get their house in order without referring directly to next year's local government elections.
Zuma paid tribute not only to Mandela, who attended Thursday's opening, but also to South Africa's last two white presidents for the country's transition to democracy.
"On this special day, we must also acknowledge the contribution of those within the leadership of the National Party, who eventually realised that apartheid had no future."
He dedicated his speech to Mandela and recalled that he was central in securing South Africa the right to host the upcoming Fifa World Cup.
"We therefore have to make the World Cup a huge success in his honour," Zuma said.