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Economic transformation on cards: Zuma

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President Jacob Zuma delivering his State of the Nation Address to a Joint Sitting of the two Houses of Parliament. Picture: Siyabulela Duda

Parliament - President Jacob Zuma on Thursday promised a period of “socio-economic transformation” after the May 7 elections.

Zuma told the National Assembly that government would launch a drive to tackle poverty and inequality and ensure that affirmative action was stepped up.

“After the elections, the country will enter a new radical phase in which we shall implement socio-economic transformation policies and programmes that will meaningfully address poverty, unemployment and inequality,” he said in reply to debate on his state-of-the-nation address.

“It is a phase of focusing on economic transformation in particular. We have achieved political freedom and now we must achieve economic freedom. Some communities are still waiting to experience the change that has swept across other areas.”

Zuma said opposition parties who decried affirmative action were ignoring the damage apartheid had caused.

“It provokes a debate we don't want to enter into. I think it is a wrong cry.”

Those who did not acknowledge the need to redress the ravages of apartheid failed to understand the history of South Africa and forgot that it was “a very funny country with the majority being deprived of their rights”.

He said whites still controlled senior management positions in business and this had to change to make economic freedom a reality for the majority of South Africans.

Zuma responded to criticism that he had allowed government debt to rise to unacceptable levels. His administration came to power amid a recession triggered by the global economic crisis of 2008, he said. It had no choice but to increase borrowing to bolster the economy.

“As a result of the economic crisis government has accumulated more debt to support the economy, increase infrastructure investment and maintain social programmes.”

He conceded national debt was at its lowest in 2008, the year before he came to power, at 27 percent of GDP, but said though it was forecast to reach 45 percent in 2015 that was “still relatively low”.

Opposition parties have been scathing in their criticism of Zuma's last state-of-the-nation address before the country goes to the polls, and ridiculed his statement that the ruling party would only unveil its future policies after the vote.

The president reiterated his assertion, made in last week's address, that his administration had “a good story to tell” like a refrain, and said it would spend the next five years building on its main stated objectives of the last term Ä improving health and education, fighting crime, advancing rural development and land reform, and creating jobs.

“The last five years have further advanced change and a better life for all, especially the poor and the working class... Indeed we have a good story to tell.”

Responding to criticism from the main opposition Democratic Alliance that he had failed, both in office and in his speech, to address the job crisis, Zuma said the jobs that were shed were lost to the global economic meltdown. He said all of those had since been recovered and more had been created.

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