Cape Town - South Africa could in the long run face the same type of political unrest that has wracked North Africa if it does not move quickly to create jobs and reduce inequalities, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said on Thursday.
Gordhan’s comments came a day after he projected a much larger-than-expected budget deficit for the next fiscal year - with billions of rand set aside for jobs - as the approach of local government elections put the government under pressure to spend more.
The ANC is under pressure to do more to slash unemployment levels of around 25% and provide social welfare for millions of people still mired in poverty.
On Thursday, Gordhan told a post-budget breakfast meeting that South Africa should move quickly to implement a new growth policy that aims to end poverty.
“As South Africans we have to be frank that we are good at ideas and not always good at implementation. Let’s learn from ... North Africa,” he said.
“North Africa is about allowing inequalities to grow, allowing joblessness to grow. It is about a state that hasn’t actually performed, about a minority that accumulates things for itself. If you want to follow that path for the next 20 years, we’ll end up like North Africa.”
Hundreds of people have been killed in Libya and Bahrain this month in anti-government protests sparked by upheavals that just weeks ago dislodged decades-old regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.
The Treasury on Wednesday shaved its growth forecast for 2011 to 3.4% from 3.5% projected last October, after the economy grew 2.8% last year after emerging from recession.
Gordhan projected growth at 4.1% in 2012 and 4.4% in 2013, but those rates are still well below levels needed to reduce unemployment, with the Treasury estimating last year that annual growth of 7% was needed to make a big dent in joblessness.
The ANC is pouring billions of dollars into job promotion schemes. Besides R39bn already earmarked for job creation and factory investment, Gordhan said the government would spend an extra R5bn on a youth employment subsidy to get school leavers and graduates into work.