President Jacob Zuma on Thursday said preventing another downgrade to South Africa’s credit rating was among government’s top priorities as he responded to the fractious debate on his state of the nation address.
“High up on our agenda is to prevent a sovereign downgrade,” Zuma told a joint sitting of the National Assembly.
He cautioned that a downgrade “would would have an adverse effect for all South Africans”.
The president said while government could not alter the global factors that were hampering economic growth it would work to address circumstances at home that were contributing to this.
Business leaders had urged, in recent meetings with him, that government should implement the National Development Plan, improve the performance of state-owned enterprises and change regulations and laws that were discouraging investment, he noted.
“Since we cannot change the global economic outlook we will focus on correcting domestic circumstances that have affected confidence in the local economy,” he said.
After being heavily criticised by the opposition during the two-day debate on his opening address to the legislature last week, Zuma took care to mention both the jobs crisis and growing concerns about the education system.
Zuma said falling commodity prices and the damage this was doing to the local economy was a grave concern because without growth, there was no hope of creating new jobs and the existing ones were under threat.
He also paused to call for greater unity among political parties but shot down a proposal during the debate by United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa for an economic “Codesa”, borrowing a name from the negotiations in the 1990s that set the terms for South Africa’s political transition.
The president said he foresaw that political parties would camp on their divergent positions on the economy and fail to find common ground.
“You believe it will solve problems, I am not sure. I can tell you we will argue from the time we start to the end.”
Zuma also announced:
- Two new specialised policing units would be set up to deal with the country’s drugs and illegal firearms scourge.
- A national youth service programme will be rolled out this year, aimed at giving young people a sense of solidarity, service and self sacrifice to the nation, as well as build patriotism.
- The Regulation of Land Holdings Bill, which will ban foreign-ownership of agricultural land in South Africa, would be tabled in Parliament this year. “They will only be able to lease the land,” Zuma stressed.
- As a cost-cutting measure, government will stop advertising in newspapers to invite tenders for state contracts. From April 1, in a bid to make state contracting more transparent, all tenders would be published online. – African News Agency (ANA)