Page last updated at 18:06 GMT, Wednesday, 3 June 2009 19:06 UK

Zuma promises half a million jobs


Jacob Zuma gives his first state of the nation address

New South African President Jacob Zuma has promised to create half a million jobs this year in his first state of the nation address.

He said fighting poverty was his priority, a week after South Africa officially announced it was facing its worst recession in 17 years.

"We must act now to minimise the impact of this downturn on those most vulnerable," he said in Cape Town.

But he also told parliament the government had to spend wisely.

Mandela cheers

The BBC's Karen Allen in Cape Town says Mr Zuma, in power for less than a month, has had to perform a delicate balancing act to appease his unions allies, currently staging strike action, and avoid scaring off investors.

Karen Allen, BBC East Africa correspondent
Karen Allen, BBC News, Cape Town

In vintage Zuma style, the new president sought to be all things to all people.

By delivering some of his speech in Afrikaans, he adopted an inclusive posture - very different to former President Thabo Mbeki who spoke in English, and whose critics dubbed him "aloof" and "out of touch with the common man".

Jacob Zuma has been more vague than his predecessor Mbeki - who during his time as president set out clear goals, objectives and targets as part of his south African vision. Jacob Zuma may have sought to build bridges with poorer south africans - some of whom who feel neglected - but he has yet to demonstrate that he is capable of facing up to the hard choices that lie ahead.

"Between now and December 2009, we plan to create about 500,000 job opportunities," he told MPs.

He promised his government would create a further four million jobs by 2014, but did not explain how.

Mr Zuma also:

• announced an annual national holiday, Mandela Day, on 18 July, prompting cheers from the audience and a wave from the watching anti-apartheid icon himself

• promised to deliver "the best World Cup ever" when South Africa hosts the football tournament in June 2010

• promised to provide anti-retroviral HIV drugs for 80% of those in need by 2011, as part of efforts to halve the rate of new HIV infections within that period

• stuck by pledges to cut violent crime by between 7%-10% a year (in a country where 50 people are killed every day)

Mr Zuma, whose African National Congress Party (ANC) swept into power in April elections on the back of strong support from unions and the poor, cautioned against expectations of a quick fix to the financial slump.

"The economic downturn will affect the pace at which our country is able to address the social and economic challenges it faces. But it will not alter the direction of our development," he said.

Ex-South African President Nelson Mandela listens to the state of the nation address by President Jacob Zuma in parliament, Cape Town, on 3 June 2009
Ninety-year-old Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela was in the audience

Fifteen years after the end of apartheid, about 40% of South Africans live in poverty - more than half of that number surviving on less than one dollar a day, according to government data.

Its economy shrunk by 6.4% during the first quarter of this year and almost one in four South Africans is unemployed.

Mr Zuma said a three-year 787bn rand ($98bn; £60bn) spending programme announced in this year's budget - and including funds for schools, transport, housing and sanitation - must be properly planned.

"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," he said.

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