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The president spoke about infrastructure development as a way to create jobs in his State of the Nation, in which he spoke about the triple challenge of unemployment, poverty and inequality.
THE government had made steady progress in health, education, crime, human settlements, energy, water provision and rural development; however, the country was not out of the woods yet.

DeliveryThe government has made significant progress in health, education and rural development (Photo: GCIS website) It was still grappling with the triple challenge of unemployment, poverty and inequality, which mainly affected Africans, women and the youth, President Jacob Zuma said in his State of the Nation Address, delivered in Cape Town on Thursday, 9 February in front of a joint sitting of parliament in the National Assembly.

He announced a massive infrastructure development drive to 2014, an effort to create jobs and stimulate economic growth. “The solution for the country therefore is higher growth and job creation to reduce and ultimately eradicate poverty and inequality,” he said.

The results of the New Growth Path were encouraging, although “we are not out of the woods yet given the global economic situation”.

Fourth quarter figures released on 7 February indicated that the unemployment rate had declined from 25 percent to 23,9 percent as a result of new jobs. In 2011 alone, about 365 000 people were employed in mining, transport, community services and trade.

Job creation
Reporting back on some of the undertakings made in his state of the nation last year, Zuma said the R9-billion Job Fund began operating in June. Over 2 500 applications were received in the first round and project allocations of over R1-billion had been committed.

Of the R10-billion set aside by the Industrial Development Corporation for job creation, about R1,5-billion had been approved for 60 companies.

The government had developed a beneficiation strategy to provide opportunities in the minerals sector as a way to address poverty, inequality and unemployment.

“The work done last year indicates that if we continue to grow reasonably well, we will begin to write a new story about South Africa—the story of how, working together, we drove back unemployment and reduced economic inequality and poverty.”

Zuma said the government’s infrastructure plan would be driven and overseen by the Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordinating Commission (PICC), ministers, premiers and mayors of metros, under the leadership of the president and the deputy president.

Focus would be on health and basic education infrastructure, information and communication technologies and regional integration.

The movement of goods from Durban to Free State and Gauteng would be improved through the establishment of an industrial corridor, to help economic integration.

“This project is intended to connect the major economic centres of Gauteng and Durban/Pinetown and at the same time, connect these centres with improved export capacity through our sea ports.”

Giving an update on his government’s key priorities, Zuma said work was at an advanced stage to improve water, sanitation, electricity, roads, human settlements, airport development and institutional and governance issues.

“We have also identified critical social infrastructure projects. These include projects aimed at laying the basis for the National Health Insurance system, such as the refurbishment of hospitals and nurses’ homes.”

Another infrastructure project with great potential was South Africa’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope in partnership with eight other African countries. The winning bid would be announced in March.

“The massive investment in infrastructure must leave more than just power stations, rail-lines, dams and roads. It must industrialise the country, generate skills and boost much needed job creation.”

A R1-billion fund to promote access to housing loans would start operating in April, managed by the National Housing Finance Corporation. The scheme would enable banks to extend access to housing finance, particularly for those who did not qualify for housing subsidies and bonds.

Zuma said from April, people earning between R3 500 and R15 000 a month would receive a subsidy of up to R83 000 from the provinces to enable them to obtain housing finance from accredited banks.

He also said that he had asked Eskom to investigate ways in which high electricity prices could be reduced over the next few years, in support of economic growth and job creation. “We need an electricity price path which will ensure that Eskom and the industry remain financially viable and sustainable, but which remains affordable, especially for the poor,” Zuma explained.

The government would continue to search for renewable energy sources, especially solar electricity and biofuels as it implemented the Green Economy Accord with economic stakeholders. About 220 000 solar geysers had been installed nationwide; the government’s target was one million solar geysers by 2014-2015.

About R248-million would be invested in the next two years to deal with acid mine drainage in Johannesburg and the reef.

On education, Zuma said the government would continue to invest in producing more teachers who could teach mathematics, science and African languages. A major achievement was the doubling of Grade R enrolment from 300 000 in 2003 to 705 000 last year and the improvement in the matric pass rate.

In expanding access to tertiary education, about R200-million would be used to help 25 000 students pay off their debts to institutions of higher learning.

On health, Zuma encouraged all citizens to live healthier lives to reduce the impact of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.

Turning to land reform, the president said his government would introduce a new policy framework, the Green Paper on Land Reform, to accelerate the redistribution of land. “The process is slow and tedious and there is general agreement that the willing buyer-willing seller option has not been the best way to address this question.”

Crime statistics for the period 2010-2011 indicated a decline of 5 percent in the number of reported serious crimes in contrast to the previous year. “We will, however, not become complacent. We are continuing to implement our programmes of making South Africans feel safe and be safe.”

He said the national government was working with various provinces to improve governance, systems and administration. “These include Gauteng to improve health service delivery.”

Heritage sites were another focus for the national government, which was working on buying and rehabilitating the Bram Fischer house in Westdene, to turn it into a heritage site.

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