Zuma, business talk job creation

Friday, March 18, 2011

Pretoria - Business leaders attending President Jacob Zuma's business summit on job creation were optimistic on Friday that the meeting may provide some kind of indication on how government planned to work with the private sector to meet its job creation targets. 

Zuma opened the summit in Pretoria by urging captains of industry to help government find solutions to the unemployment challenge facing the country. It is expected to thrash out details of how government will work with the private sector to create jobs.

Among those who attended included a delegation of top industry leaders under the umbrella of Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), the banking and mining sector and all the major parastatals. 

Government has declared 2011 "a year of job creation" with the state pinning its hope on the economy to create more than five million jobs in the next 10 years. But to do this, Zuma acknowledged that government would require more direct investment in the economy of South Africa and greater involvement of the private sector. 

"This calls for hard work from all sides ... as government, we have been working to strengthen the legislative and policy frameworks to make it easier to do business in our country and also to support emerging business as well as broad-based black economic empowerment," he said. 

Since 1994, government had made "substantial progress" in transforming the economy to benefit the majority, but serious challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality remained. 

"We have had a long period of economic growth during the last 10 years but it has not been strong on job creation. We need to find a solution," he said. 

The President said legislators were committed to the mixed economy model, where the state, private capital, cooperative and other forms of social ownership complement each other in an integrated way to eliminate poverty and foster shared economic growth. The latter, combined with an economy that is increasingly integrated into the Southern African region can lead to years of uninterrupted development. 

Zuma further said the state has been doing its part in alleviating poverty through various social security initiatives for the poor, but he was sure that the creation of decent work was the most effective way of dealing with poverty. 

The summit needed to deliberate on how government and the private sector could use the signs of positive growth in the economy to create employment. While business leaders said they understood the importance of job creation for the country's economy to prosper, they needed a more competitive and conducive environment to conduct business in the country. 

"I think from the private sector point of view, the question we all have is how do we get to the stage where it is made easy for business to operate in an environment that is both competitive and relaxed because that is central to the success of any business and economy," said businessman and former Eskom chair Bobby Godsell. 

He said the summit should not be about who is to blame for the low employment figures, but how different parties could work together to create jobs. 

"We need practical solutions and coming together like this will help get the sense of how people think and what should be done both from the business side and that of the government," said Godsell.

Nedbank's Dennis Dykes said the role of the banking sector and its capacity to fund small business was important for any job creation strategy. "We are hoping stemming from this summit will be a more vigorous approach on how banks can better assist in the growth of business because there is no doubt that when it comes to business funding, especially small business, the role of the banks is crucial."

BUSA proposed the formation of a "bilateral" presidential business council, which it suggested would meet regularly to discuss issues of policy and advice government on how to take advantage of a growing economy. 

"We are already partnered in the fight against corruption, against crime and together with other social partners ... this summit must also have a legacy," said the body's president Futhi Mtoba. 

She said BUSA shared a belief that there was an indisputable link between growth and jobs and committed to partner with government achieve the needed employment targets.

"Investing in our economy is a key area where we must solidify the partnership between government and business. More pertinently, we also believe that creating jobs will require that we are more competitive therefore the partnership between business and government should constantly target making our enterprises and our entire economy ever more competitive," Mtoba added.