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State of the Nation: Zuma's jobs focus brings sighs of relief in South Africa

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“In many ways, it’s what you expect from such a speech in an election year,” says Azar Jammine, director of the Econometrix forecasting firm in Johannesburg. “The big question is whether these intentions will be realized, and that’s the same question that is posed year after year after year.”

Job creation is key

South Africa's economic climate is strong. There was continued growth even throughout much of the global slowdown, Mr. Jammine says, “but it’s not growing fast enough to reduce unemployment in an appreciable way. At one point, one has to ask how much progress could be made, even in a period of economic growth, without improving the skills base."

The forefront of Zuma’s job-creation plan is a 9 billion rand ($1.2 billion) fund to help create jobs and a separate 20 billion rand ($2.7 billion) in tax breaks for businesses to create jobs, a proposal welcomed by both labor unions and business owners. Improving the skills base would entail on-the-job training for those who are already employed, developing further skills to make them more effective workers.

“We cannot create these jobs alone,” Mr. Zuma said, reading his speech from an iPad. “We have to work with business, labour and community constituencies. Experience shows that we succeed when we work together.”

Both ideas are almost certain to be passed, in part because the ANC’s most bitter rival, the Democratic Alliance party, claims the jobs fund idea as their own.

DA leader Helen Zille – whose party controls Western Cape province which includes Cape Town – welcomed Zuma’s speech, but she cautioned that the government needs to start improving its capacity to deliver basic services. “While we have an incapacitated state, none of the plans will come to fruition,” she said.

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