Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma confirmed that mining taxes were up for review in a State of the Nation address which warned that the country needed to work against economic odds to achieve the aims of the National Development Plan (NDP).
Zuma acknowledged business' concerns about barriers to growth, and called on other sectors, including labour, to help find solutions to push it to at least five percent - double the current forecast - and create jobs.
“In my last meeting with the business community, the sector indicated that for the economy to grow three-fold we must remove certain obstacles,” he said.
“We will engage business, labour, and other social partners in pursuit of solutions. No single force, acting individually, can achieve the objectives we have set for ourselves.”
It was widely expected that Zuma would use his speech as a rallying call to implement the plan, and his leadership victory at the Mangaung conference two months ago to try to get different political forces to converge behind it.
The president, who was battling flu, said it was a fact that the country would miss the target set out in the NDP of creating 11 million jobs by 2030 unless the economy grew threefold.
He termed the plan a road map for achieving a just and more equal country, but said its aims - from access to basic services to safety to employment - had recently been hampered by global economic woes, and he warned that these were not about to go away.
“The achievement of these goals had proven to be difficult in the recent past, due the global economic recession.
“The crisis in the Eurozone affects South Africa's economy as the Eurozone was its major trading partner... Our GDP growth is expected to average at 2.5 percent cent, down from 3.1 percent in the previous year. We need growth rates in excess of five percent to create more jobs.”
In a nod to the left, the president also retained a focus on the role of a strong state in the economy, in rescuing stricken industries and rolling out infrastructure programmes.
“The past two years have demonstrated that where the state intervenes strongly and consistently, it can turn around key industries that face external and internal threats, as has happened in our manufacturing sector.”
He conceded that the state had encountered a learning curve on its infrastructure drive, and said projects would now be fast-tracked.
Zuma announced that mining taxes would be reviewed as part of a wider study on the suitability of South Africa's tax regime.
Speculation to this effect had raised concern in the sector, but Zuma said he believed it had been handed policy certainty by the African National Congress's decision at Mangaung to abandon the nationalisation debate.
“Later this year, the minister of finance will be commissioning a study of our current tax policies, to make sure that we have an appropriate revenue base to support public spending.
“Part of this study will evaluate the current mining royalties regime, with regard to its ability to suitably serve our people.”
Referring to the Marikana shooting, the president said he believed labour stability had been secured in the Rustenburg region.
He returned to the event later in his speech to signal a firm stance against violent protest, and announced that the police and the justice departments had been instructed to deal with it as a priority.
“Courts will be allocated to deal with such cases on a prioritised roll. The law must be enforced and it must be seen to be enforced, fairly effectively and expeditiously.”
In perhaps his most to-the-point annual address, Zuma took a tough stance on crime and on shortcomings in education.
He singled out the rape and murder of Anene Booysen in Bredasdorp, and called for a concerted effort to end violence against women.
“The brutality and cruelty meted out to defenceless women is unacceptable and has no place in our country.”
On education, he said a presidential remuneration commission would tackle the teaching profession first to ensure that it attracted and retained skills.
“In elevating education to its rightful place, we want to see an improvement in the quality of learning and teaching and the management of schools. We want to see an improvement in attitudes, posture and outcomes.”
He said the government's insistence that teaching be termed an essential service would not affect the profession's right to strike.
Political analyst Susan Booysens, from the University of the Witwatersrand, described Zuma's speech as a “very beholden and conservative” move back to basics.
Her colleague in the economics department Oren Dayan faulted it for not holding out more stability to the mining sector.
“I find the speech to be very informative in terms of statistics and figures, but I was waiting for value in terms of economic growth and jobs stability for the mining industry,” said Dayan.
“What would have been expected from the president is how he would bring surety for the miners and the mining companies.”
Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said Zuma had come up with nothing new.
“The president focused on the right issues... but he hardly came up with a single new plan,” she said. - Sapa