Cape Town-18-02-2016 President Zuma replied to the State of the Nation debate in Parliament.pic Phando Jikelo

Parliament - President Jacob Zuma reached out to opposition parties in his response to the debate on the State of the Nation Address, calling on them to put the country first, especially in standing up to racism.

“Racism is an enemy of humanity. If there is anything that this country must agree on, it is the fight against racism, because we know what it did to our nation,” Zuma said.

He also called for unity in tackling the economic crisis, saying the country had “a good plan”, and it could overcome the challenges.

“South Africa, like many emerging markets, faces challenges. But we have time and again succeeded where others thought we would fail.

“Now is the time for us to unite and harness this power and provide leadership and direction to our people during this difficult time,” he said.

Following two days of frequently acrimonious debate, during which he was mocked for living on “Planet Zuma” and called on to resign, the president also pleaded for a change of behaviour from MPs.

Read: Zuma scolds disrespectful MPs

He was worried about the image being portrayed to the outside world and people of the country, who looked to Parliament to see how it would address their problems.

When MPs defied rulings by presiding officers or insisted on speaking when others were on the podium, it undermined the rights of their peers, Zuma said during a lengthy departure from his prepared script.

He commended DA leader Mmusi Maimane for calling on MPs to allow him to be heard when he delivered the State of the Nation address last week, in response to interruptions by the EFF.

“I thought you made a good point,” he told Maimane.

He once again put heavy emphasis on the economy, saying the cabinet had discussed “cutting wastage, improving the performance of the state and boosting growth” and premiers had been briefed on this “new direction”.

Also read: Zuma pledges to halt economy’s tailspin

Stronger measures to restore a sustainable fiscal path had been endorsed “at the highest levels of government”.

He committed to meeting chief executives of top companies again in May to review progress in carrying out proposals arising from their meeting last week

High on the agenda was avoiding a sovereign ratings downgrade.

He gave the assurance the National Development Plan was being implemented and remained the blueprint for tackling poverty, inequality and unemployment.

“Credible plans will be developed in sectors such as water, energy, food security, spatial planning and public transport, to ensure that the challenges we are experiencing become a thing of the past,” Zuma said.

Among new announcements were that all government tenders would be advertised on a single tender portal instead of in newspapers, cutting costs and providing easier access to suppliers, who would be registered on a central database.

This would save millions and bring the costs of building new schools, for example, to under R30 million.

Zuma also announced the re-introduction of specialised narcotics and gang units falling under the Hawks.

Legislation to help fight corruption would be tabled this year, including a Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Amendment Bill to address practical challenges and close gaps.

A Cyber Crimes and Related Matters Bill would also be introduced in the first half of the year.

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Political Bureau

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