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South Africa State of Nation Address Contains Few New Proposals

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe gave his State of the Nation address Friday to parliament. He said the “global economic meltdown poses serious dangers for the South African economy” and that economic growth forecasts have been scaled down.

VOA reporter Delia Robertson is following the story from Johannesburg.

“It was really more of a stump speech than it was a State of the Nation address. He spent a lot of time extolling the virtues of the (ruling) African National Congress Party and government. Although he did mention that there were challenging areas that need attention. But it was a speech more of somebody who is a caretaker, as he is,” she says.

Motlanthe will only remain in office for another few months. Then elections will be held. “Last September, the African National Congress ousted President Thabo Mbeki as leader of the country and of the government and installed Mr. Motlanthe in his place. So, he’s had just a few months in office. But on top of that, we are to have elections this year, probably around the middle of April. And then we are likely to have a new president entirely,” she says.

ANC President Jacob Zuma appears mostly like to be the next president, although he faces corruption charges. Zuma took over as ANC leader in the intra-party power struggle with Mbeki.

President Motlanthe did speak to the problems created by the global economic crisis. “What he basically did is he reiterated an existing government program that would entail government spending, about $70 billion in the coming three years…(for) infrastructure development and things of that nature in which they would target job creation in the hopes that this reduces poverty and cushions the impact of the global financial crisis,” she says.

Some estimates put South Africa’s unemployment rate at over 23 percent. Unemployment has been a problem for the ANC government since it took power in multi-racial, democratic elections in 1994. But Robertson says that the ANC could not give its full attention to the jobless problem right away.

“To be honest, they have in very recent years started getting on top of that. One of the big problems, of course, was when the African National Congress government came to power they inherited a huge amount of debt, which they were determined to pay off and put behind them. And then it was a case of rebuilding and stabilizing the economy after years of international sanctions…. Sort of bringing stability, getting the economy running on a fairly equitable basis, opening up the economy to blacks,” Robertson says.

Critics, however, say despite the problems the ANC faced when it came to power, it should have done more to create jobs. Some say that, despite debts, the ANC government should have gone into deficit even more to create jobs.