South Africa must act now to minimise the impact of the global financial crisis on the poor, but still had to spend wisely, President Jacob Zuma said in his State of the Nation Address on Wednesday.
Union allies who helped Zuma’s rise are demanding more spending and deeper interest-rate cuts, but Zuma is also wary of scaring off investors as the economy suffers its first recession in 17 years.
”We take as our starting point the framework for South Africa’s response to the international economic crisis, concluded by government, labour and business,” Zuma said.
”We must act now to minimise the impact of this downturn on those most vulnerable.”
Global financial woes have hit demand for minerals and manufactured goods from South Africa, making it harder for Zuma to satisfy the demands of unions who would like to push policies to the left.
”Since the implementation of our programme will take place in the face of the economic downturn, we will have to act prudently — no wastage, no rollovers of funds — every cent must be spent wisely and fruitfully.”
Zuma said that on the presidential inauguration on May 9, the African National Congress had made a commitment to eradicate poverty and the government had identified 10 priority areas, which formed part of the medium-term strategic framework for 2009 to 2014.
He said the effects of the economic downturn were now clearly being seen in the South African economy.
”We have begun to act to reduce job losses. There is an agreement in principle between government and the social partners on the introduction of a training lay-off.”
He said ”a scaled-up” industrial policy action plan would be developed.
”The lead sectors already identified are automobile, chemicals, metal fabrication, tourism, clothing and textiles as well as forestry. In addition, attention will also be paid to services, light manufacturing and construction, amongst others, in the quest to create decent jobs.”
He said the expanded public works programme and the community work programme would be fast-tracked.
”It offers a minimum level of regular work to those who need it, while improving the quality of life in communities.”
Education would be a key priority for the government for the next five years, Zuma said.
”We want our teachers, learners and parents to work with government to turn our schools into thriving centres of excellence.”
The early childhood development programme would be stepped up, with the aim of ensuring universal access to Grade R and doubling the number of zero- to four-year-old children by 2014.
”We reiterate our non-negotiables. Teachers should be in school, in class, on time, teaching, with no neglect of duty and no abuse of pupils. The children should be in class, on time, learning, be respectful of their teachers and each other, and do their homework.”
To improve school management, formal training would be a precondition for promoting teachers to become principals or heads of department, he said.
”I will meet school principals to share our vision on the revival of our education system.”
He added the government would increase its efforts to encourage all pupils to complete their secondary education in line with a target to to increase enrolment rates in secondary schools to 95% by 2014.
”We are also looking at innovative measures to bring back into the system pupils who dropped out of school, and to provide support.”
Cost of telecommunications to be reduced
Zuma said the government would ensure that the cost of telecommunications was reduced.
He said the roll-out of digital broadcasting infrastructure and signal distribution transmitters was a development ”which should boost the
”Overall, we will ensure that the cost of telecommunications is reduced through the projects under way to expand broadband capacity,” he said.
”We have to ensure that we do not leave rural areas behind in these exciting developments,” he added.