Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma put job creation firmly on the top of government's agenda for 2011 in his state of the nation address, calling on all departments and the private sector to tackle the unemployment crisis.
Zuma announced the establishment of a jobs fund of R9bn over the next three years to finance new job-creation initiatives, and said the private sector would get billions in tax breaks to stimulate job growth in manufacturing.
At the same time, he signalled that he expected the business community to create most of the millions of new jobs the country needs.
"We cannot create these jobs alone. We have to work with business, labour and the community constituencies. While looking at the private sector in particular to help us create most of the jobs, government will certainly play its part."
He told parliament the Industrial Development Corporation had set aside R10 billion over the next five years for investment in economic activities with a high job creation potential.
"It is also my pleasure... to announce R20bn in tax allowances or tax breaks to promote investments, expansions and upgrades in the manufacturing sector," Zuma said.
Treasury officials said in fact the project was conceived in 2008, but could only be put into effect now because Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan
needed to promulgate regulations to allow for the tax incentives. This happened in July 2010.
"So that is why it can only come into effect now," Treasury spokesperson Jabulani Sikhakhane said, adding that the department of trade and industry had begun receiving applications in this regard.
Whereas Zuma used his address last year to promise faster delivery, he claimed a number of successes this time around but conceded much more needed to be done.
Government would spend R2.6bn on water services this year.
Other targets included giving the poor greater access to higher education, finalising the National Health Insurance policy and giving a third of the 1.2 million households living in informal settlements security of tenure within the next three years.
"By the year, 2014, 400 000 of the said households should have security of tenure and access to basic services."
The long-awaited NHI policy would be made public "soon" and government planned to improve health care this year by appointing "appropriate and qualified personnel to the right positions".
"We need qualified heads of department, chief financial officers, hospital chief executive officers, district health officers and clinic managers," Zuma said.
Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Athol Trollip
contended South Africa had shifted a step closer to the nationalisation of its mining industry.
He said the president's reference to the mineral assets of the country belonging to the state was of "massive concern".
"I think we're one step closer to the nationalisation of mines, and I'm very concerned about that.
"We have a state mining company, but his (Zuma's) referral to the mineral assets of this country belonging to the state is a massive concern, because we're not going to be able to create jobs in that industry if there is nationalisation," Trollip said.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe
said he was "quite comfortable" with Zuma's address as it focused on the ruling party's main priorities.
"We are quite comfortable with the speech as it reflects the problems the ANC has been working on. The R9bn put aside for job creation is quite good."
He said the private sector needed to use the opportunity to access that funding.
Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi
said labour laws were a stumbling block to job creation.
It was a good thing for government to set aside over R10 billion for job creation, but it was a futile exercise because labour legislation was not conducive for job creation.
"The hostile labour laws made job creation impossible," he said.
Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder
said: "We really must create jobs and therefore we need some incentives for the private sector in agriculture but at the same time he announced labour laws... more restrictive labour laws... and I think that's a mixed message.
The R9bn job fund was good news, United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa
"Remember that the previous government has been reluctant to invest in job creation, to investing more money or intervening in the economy.Decent work
"There seems to have been a paradigm shift under the presidency of Mr Jacob Zuma. He wants to invest more money into the economy and this is not a taboo," he said.
Feelings were mixed within organised labour.
Zuma's address had given South Africans "little hope" in the fight against crime.
"One of the burning issues of the country is crime and again as in the past this was a huge disappointment," said the union's deputy general secretary Dirk Hermann, whose uncle Frik Hermann was found dead at his farm near Alma in Limpopo on Tuesday.
Overall however, Hermann welcomed the speech, calling it "bakgat" - well balanced and comprehensive.
Congress of SA Trade Unions spokesperson Patrick Craven said the federation "broadly welcomed" the speech.
"Obviously need to find out who will receive money to make sure it is used for job creation," he said.
Federation of Unions of South Africa general secretary Dennis George
welcomed Zuma's declaration of 2011 a year of job creation.
"President Zuma has emphasised that decent work is at the centre of our economic policy," he said.