/ 12 February 2010

Mixed reactions to State of the Nation address

President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address lacked “recognition” of the unemployment crisis, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) said on Thursday.

“We are concerned that there was too little recognition of the extent of the massive crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality and consequently no plans for a new economic growth path,” spokesperson Patrick Craven said in a statement.

Cosatu had been pushing for the development of a new industrial strategy after almost a million jobs were lost as the country slipped into recession at the start of 2009 — its first in 17 years. It emerged from recession in the third quarter.

“There is no evidence yet that we are on track to create new jobs on the scale required and bring down the world-record levels of inequality.”

The African National Congress’s labour ally was also “particularly concerned” about Zuma’s silence on the creation of “decent work”, the spread of casual labour and labour broking.

Craven said there was a “worrying suggestion” that privatisation had a role to play in the electricity sector, which Cosatu felt would destroy a crucial public service.

The Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo) also expressed concern that Zuma’s address was “disappointing” as he did not focus on education, crime or poverty alleviation.

“People were looking forward to steps and plans that the government has adopted and would be implementing to improve education, curb crime and alleviate poverty among other things,” said Azapo spokesperson David Lebethe in a statement.

He said Azapo expected Zuma to place targets and benchmarks on such important issues.

“It seems there will be no end to service delivery protests with the kind of approach adopted by government. It is evident that they have run out of ideas and we are heading for a disaster,” said Lebethe.

The SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI) was however encouraged by the president’s speech.

Sacci welcomed Zuma’s commitment to a “year of action”, but said the lack of detail in commitments, other than in the five priority areas, was concerning.

“We anticipate that the delivery and implementation of the strategies outlined would be as sound as the promises and commitments made in the address.”

Sacci said placing priority on skills development in policies, along with the infrastructure spending increase to R846-billion, would create a sound base for stronger economic development.

“The tone of the president’s address, supported by the promise of improved economic activity and growth is encouraging to business and should promote business confidence at a time when business confidence is constrained.” — Sapa