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Zuma promises 500,000 new jobs. Can he deliver?

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JOHANNESBURG – Elected with the enthusiastic support of labor unions and leftists, South African President Jacob Zuma gave his first clear statement of his government’s priorities today.

Today’s speech had a lot for a leftist to love.

It included promises of improved schools, hospitals, roads, police services, and a whopping 500,000 new jobs a year, created by government spending.

But there was also a rich butterscotch pudding of reassurance for the South African business community, who have gotten used to the pro-business and pro-foreign investment policies of Mr. Zuma’s predecessor, President Thabo Mbeki.

Can President Zuma – a man who has assumed power precisely when South Africa has joined the world in a brutal economic downturn – really do it all?

Where's the vision?

Perhaps not, but analysts say that his clear avoidance of rocking the boat may be a lost opportunity for showing vision and leadership.

“I read his speech and I ended up saying, ‘so what?’ ” says Adam Habib, a political analyst and vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg.

“The first state of the nation should indicate your government’s plan and priorities for the next five years. This state of the nation says everything. And because it says everything, it doesn’t say much about your priorities of where you plan to go.”

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