Economic downturn will not change SA's development

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Durban - President Jacob Zuma has reiterated that the economic downturn will not change the direction of South Africa's development.

"The economic downturn will no doubt affect the pace at which our country is able to address the socio-economic challenges it faces and will slow down the creation of decent jobs.

"But, as we said in the State of the Nation address, it will not alter the direction of our development, the policy priorities that we have identified and the plans that we placed before the electorate, will not change," said President Zuma.

Addressing members of the Durban Chamber of Commerce on Saturday night, President Zuma said while South Africa has not been affected to the extent that a number of other countries have been, the effects of the economic meltdown are now being seen in the economy as the country has truly entered a recession.

He said the country's framework to respond to this crisis was concluded by government, labour and business in February this year and teams were established to work on this.

"Some of the immediate actions were to be the introduction of a training layoff, workers who would ordinarily be facing retrenchments due to economic difficulties would be re-trained and kept in employment for a period of time.

"The Industrial Development Corporation has also developed a programme to fund companies in distress.

"We also have to ensure that government buys more goods and services locally, without undermining our global competitiveness or pushing up costs beyond acceptable levels," President Zuma said.

He added that government was paying serious attention to the protests and sympathetic to the concerns of people who have genuine grievances.

The President said government meant what it said during the election that for as long as people lived in such conditions, it would not rest.

"We know what it is like to live in conditions of squalor without water, basic sanitation or electricity and are working hard to improve the situation throughout the country," he said.

He however, warned that whilst government also understands and accepts the right of people to take to the streets in protest if they are unhappy, they lose government support if the protests are accompanied by violence.

"We are a listening government and working with our people, we will put in mechanisms of responding faster and effectively, he said.

Police, he said, have been instructed to respond with sensitivity towards protesters who act within the confines of the law and the Constitution, but to take swift action against those who break the law.

"We urge employers and workers to negotiate in good faith and try to finalise the discussions speedily and amicably so that all sectors can get back to work," said the President.

President Zuma said that during the term of this administration, government will focus intensively on the local government sphere.

He noted that while government is tempting to shout at colleagues in local government and say they are not doing their work, government needed to go deeper than that and check what kind of support government provides provincially and nationally to local government, especially in the very rural municipalities with no resources.

He further urged businesspeople to form partnerships with municipalities in surrounding areas and to see what kind of support they could provide in terms of skills development and infrastructure.

"I intend to have an intensive interaction with local government colleagues to hear first hand from them what the challenges are so that working together we can look for solutions," he said.

He assured business people that everything seemed to be going well, adding that government was on track and pleased with the progress made so far.