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

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Zuma’s ANC has control of almost two-thirds of the seats in parliament, so passing his parliamentary agenda should be no problem given sufficient political will. And it is the political will that critics of Zuma, both within his party and outside of it, are questioning.

Those on the left complain that Zuma still has not honored promises from his 2010 State of the Nation speech, in which he signaled a pro-poor focus for his government. Those on the right say that Zuma’s accumulated promises would bankrupt the national budget at a time when the country’s economy should be growing. But his almost single-minded focus on the economy and creating jobs for unemployed youths seems to have drawn tentative praise from all corners.

“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.

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