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South Africa to Spend Billions to Speed Development


South African President Thabo Mbeki says his government will invest billions of dollars to speed up development. Mr. Mbeki was addressing the opening of parliament in Cape Town.

President Mbeki announced plans to spend $66 billion over the next three years to develop infrastructure and create jobs across a wide range of sectors, including transport, communications, energy, housing, education, clean water and sports. Many projects will be undertaken in partnership with the private sector.

Mr. Mbeki's annual report on the state-of-the-nation follows recent studies and surveys showing that South Africa is experiencing a level of sustained economic growth and burgeoning public confidence last seen more than six decades ago.

"What all these figures signify is that our people are firmly convinced that our country has entered its Age of Hope," Mbeki said. "They are convinced that we have created the conditions to achieve more rapid progress towards the realization of their dreams. They are certain that we are indeed a winning nation."

But Mbeki warned, high levels of confidence can be easily dashed, if people's expectations remain unfulfilled.

"While we must indeed celebrate the high levels of optimism that inspire our people, who are convinced that our country has entered its Age of Hope, we must also focus on, and pay particular attention to, the implications of those high levels of optimism, with regard to what we must do together to achieve the objective of a better life for all our people," he said. "We have to respond to the hopes of the people by doing everything possible to meet their expectations."

Many South Africans are growing frustrated at the slow pace of development. There have been angry demonstrations and protests in some 90 municipalities against poor service delivery, inadequate health facilities and corruption of local government officials.

Mr. Mbeki's political opponents argue that he was not specific about how he intended to implement his plan. Steven Friedman of the Center for Policy Studies says that Mr. Mbeki did not clearly spell out what he expected from local government officials and the public in general.

"He had an opportunity to send a message, and, as I say, he could have sent the message that local choice is important, that local governments must be more responsive, that citizens must be more involved," said Friedman. "He chose not to send that message. He sounded like the manager of a very large organization, saying 'we are going to get our act together.' He can't do that without the citizens of this country, and he can't do that [without] a more responsive government, and it's a pity he didn't say so."

Mbeki said his government will review the current willing-seller, willing-buyer approach to meet its goal of transferring 30 percent, or 23 million hectares, of arable land to black owners by 2014. Mr. Mbeki said his government would follow international norms and practices in formulating its new policy.

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