S Africa’s Zuma outlines economic plan

President focuses on job creation in his annual address but the opposition says he is “out of touch with reality”.

Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s president, has revealed an ambitious set of infrastructure projects designed to rescue South Africa from the effects of a global recession that has hit the nation harder than most on the continent.

We have chosen five major geographically-focused programmes, as well as projects focusing on health and basic education infrastructure, information and communication technologies and regional integration,” Zuma said in his annual televised state of the nation address to parliament in Cape Town on Thursday.

“It must industrialise the country, generate skills and boost much needed job creation.”

His plan spanned the country, from a dam in the southwestern homeland of former President Nelson Mandela to a rail and road network and new water systems to boost prospects for mining in Limpopo, a province in the far northeast that is among the nation’s poorest and often pointed to as among the most corrupt.

Zuma’s focus on infrastructure development was applauded by opposition politicians, but they questioned whether he could or would follow through on his pledges.

While indicating that 300 million rands ($40m) would be spent to build new universities in the provinces of Mpumalanga in the east and Northern Cape in the west, and revealed that Transnet, the state-owned transportation company, would invest 300 billion rand ($40bn) in capital projects over the next seven years, the president did not reveal how much the entire programme would cost or when all its components would be completed.

Mixed reaction

“Where the finance minister is going to find all the money to finance all these promises is a mystery,” Lindiwe Mazibuko, a parliamentary leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance party said in a statement.

Zuma’s five-point plan
 Develop and integrate rail, road and water infrastructure
 Improve the movement of goods and economic integration through a Durban-Gauteng logistics and industrial corridor
 Develop a major new South Eastern node that will improve the industrial and agricultural development and export capacity of the Eastern Cape region
 Expand the roll-out of water, roads, rail and electricity infrastructure
 Expand the iron-ore rail line between Sishen in Northern Cape and Saldanha Bay in the Western Cap

“As a result, the president appeared out of touch with reality. We welcome the infrastructure projects mentioned by the president, but there are question marks over how we are going to find an additional 330 billion rands per year to pay for them,” Mazibuko said.

Zuma was elected in 2009 to a five-year term, taking office just as the global recession hit South Africa, considered sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest economy, but has been burdened by high rates of poverty, unemployment and inequality despite years of buoyant growth.

Across Africa, the recession had been delayed, leading many to initially think Africa would be spared.

But as Zuma’s address drew the ire of the opposition, there were mixed responses from the online world and South Africa’s leading newspapers.

Khadija Patel, a journalist at the online news website Daily Maverick told Al Jazeera that there was a lot of activity on the social media platform Twitter all week, building up to Thursday’s address.

“I think the speech this year disproved apathy in South African politics among the chattering classes. All week there has been a great deal of discussion on what exactly President Zuma should say.

“Expectations were not very high. Most people didn’t expect the President to say anything especially poignant or even useful and yet they tuned in their droves – some to complain about Zuma’s poor oratory skills, others to complain about his pronunciation – but at the end of the speech many feel Zuma acquitted himself well.

“The speech was by no means perfect, it lacked detail on crucial points and failed to acknowledge foreign policy altogether but it was enough to inspire a lukewarm reception from the public.” 

Aubrey Matshiqi, political analyst from the Centre for Policy studies, told the Business Report, that the address was “very ambitious” and lacking detail on implementation.

Job creation

But the Mail & Guardian reported that the speech was one of the better state of nation speeches since taking office in 2009, noting that “while barren of any poetry or great quotes, was strong on detail and provided a sense of the earnestness and planning being put into efforts to unlock economic potential and create jobs”.

Zuma was applauded during his speech when he mentioned unemployment figures of 23.9 per cent released earlier in the week. The figure, for the end of 2011 represented the biggest growth in employment for South Africa since its 2009 recession. 

Government statisticians said that 365,000 more South Africans were working in the fourth quarter of 2011 than in the fourth quarter of the previous year.

Zuma’s African National Congress party in 2010 set itself a daunting target of creating five million jobs by 2020. But its own finance minister has estimated that would require growth of over six percent a year.

South Africa has been and is predicted to continue to be well short of that, in part because of the global recession.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies