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President Jacob Zuma declared 2011 the “year of the job” during his address at the ANC’s 99th birthday rally held in Polokwane on Saturday.
Zuma made it clear that, if nothing else, he wanted jobs to be created this year to curb the the knock-on effects of unemployment, including the widening of inequality, rural poverty and the replication of apartheid fault lines.
He gave his unequivocal support to the new growth path (NGP), the brainchild of Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel, as the vehicle through which South Africa would achieve both economic growth and job creation.
“We must make the decisive shift to meaningful economic transformation and set in motion a very deliberate programme that will ensure that the benefits of our political liberation are shared amongst all our people.”
Shortly before Zuma’s speech the Congress of South African Trade Unions—among the biggest critics of the NGP—announced they would present a document with their criticisms of the plan. Cosatu considers the NGP to be similar to the much-maligned Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) policy introduced during the administration of former president Thabo Mbeki.
During his message of support to the party, ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema had a quick-fix solution to the economic problems of South Africa: nationalisation.
But Zuma beat Malema at his own game. While Malema relies on the Freedom Charter to lend credence to his call for nationalisation, Zuma claimed that his way of ensuring economic transformation was the best way to change people’s lives.
Zuma showed Malema that although their methods were different, their goals were the same and even echoed Malema’s slogan of “political freedom is meaningless without economic freedom” by telling the 40 000-strong crowd: “Political emancipation without economic transformation is meaningless.”
Zuma did however commit himself to “exploring ways to further unlocking the country’s mining-sector potential”—opening himself up for criticism due to the involvement of his own family and friends such as his son Duduzane, his nephew Khulubuse and businessman and friend Atul Gupta in mining.
Zuma steered clear of some sticky issues, including the media appeals tribunal, which the party was adamant should go ahead this year.
Zuma merely encouraged the media to “speed up its transformation processes”.
“The country needs a strong and diverse media that is independent of commercial and political interests, which will support nation building as well as efforts to deepen, consolidate and strengthen our democracy, social cohesion and good governance.”
On the role of state-owned enterprises he simply said they should “operate differently and more effectively”, but did not elaborate.
Zuma’s comments about the municipal election and the screening of potential candidates touched a nerve with the audience.
“Our communities want to be integrally involved in choosing their local councillors ... the ANC will put in place a system that allows greater community participation in choosing candidates for the 2011 local government elections.”
A Limpopo ANC Women’s League member told the Mail & Guardian after Zuma’s speech that his warning would be effective in rooting out incompetent councillors.
“There are those who want to now stand for a second term. Why? They didn’t do their job. But now that he has said something about that, they will have to listen.”