THE government will pump an additional R29-billion into job creation mainly in the manufacturing sector, taking the dedicated budget for employment promotion to R39-billion over the next five years, President Jacob Zuma said in his state of the nation address to Parliament last night.
In a generally upbeat speech claiming progress in most of the government‘s priority areas, he included the announcement of R800-million in immediate relief to communities affected by recent flooding and promised to follow up with further spending on reconstruction.
Opposition party leaders said afterwards his speech had been better than last year‘s, but still lacked detail.
Confirming that local government elections would be held before the end of May, Zuma conceded some municipalities and public services were not performing well. “We have to make people‘s experience of local government a pleasant one, as it touches their homes and their lives directly, every day,” he said.
Addressing the debate on decent work, which ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe appeared to move away from recently, Zuma said: “The creation of decent work is at the centre of our economic policies.”
He dodged specific pronouncements on the major debates of the day, including the possible nationalisation of mines. Nor did he announce any new spending or initiatives to fight crime.
He did, however, acknowledge the national outcry against un-repaired potholes and said some of the capacity of the expanded public works programme would be directed towards fixing them.
Zuma arrived at Parliament with his first wife, known as maKhumalo, at the end of a sweltering day, escorted by bandsmen in scarlet, and paused for a 21-gun salute and an air force fly-past.
His remaining two wives and his fiancee were escorted straight to the president‘s bay in the public gallery, where they chatted and, unlike last year, stayed awake.
Watched from the public gallery by guests including former presidents Thabo Mbeki and FW de Klerk, former speaker Frene Ginwala, ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, cricketer Makhaya Ntini and a host of diplomats, Zuma noted the absence of former president Nelson Mandela and appealed to the public to leave him in peace.
The warring leaders of the Congress of the People, Mbhazima Shilowa and Mosiuoa Lekota, sat side by side but stony faced while waiting for Zuma to arrive. Close-ups on the big screens around the chamber of their stern faces brought a roar of laughter.
Declaring this year “the year of job creation”, Zuma said R9-billion would be made available for new job creation initiatives and R20-billion for allowances and tax breaks as a stimulus to the manufacturing sector.
He reiterated that the state- owned Industrial Development Corporation had already set aside a further R10-billion for investment in economic activities with high job creation potential, taking the dedicated budget for job creation to R39-billion over the next three to five years.
Zuma said experts estimated South Africa would be able to continue mining for at least a century, but his comments on the state‘s role in mining were ambiguous. “To take advantage of that potential, the government has endorsed the African Exploration, Mining and Finance Corporation as the State Owned Mining Company, that will undertake the mining of minerals of strategic significance.
“One of the government‘s priorities this year is also to finalise and adopt the beneficiation strategy as the official policy of government, so that we can start reaping the full benefits of our commodities.”
Some following his speech in the public gallery interpreted the comment as a warning to ANCYL leader Malema that there would be no further state role in mining. Others saw it as a claim to an exclusive mandate for the state to mine “minerals of strategic significance”.
But Malema told reporters outside Parliament that Zuma was softening up the private sector for nationalisation and demanded that Mining Minister Susan Shabangu should “come to her senses” and support him. “He‘s moving a step ahead. He‘s also preparing all those who had doubts that one day we‘ll take over and benefit from the minerals of this country … so our call for nationalisation is being responded to,” he said.
Pieter Mulder, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and leader of the Freedom Front, said Zuma had sent “mixed messages” on the security of mine ownership when he should have resolved the issue.
Ministers are expected to spell out the details of some of his comments next week.
Zuma did not renew the pledge he made last year to implement a youth wage subsidy to encourage the employment of first-time workers.
DA leader Helen Zille said the government would need to spell out details of Zuma‘s plans. IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said the speech had been positive.