SOUTH African President Jacob Zuma has promised to create half a million jobs this year in his first state of the nation address. He said fighting poverty was his priority, a week after South Africa officially announced it was facing its worst recession in 17 years.
â€œWe must act now to minimise the impact of this downturn on those most vulnerable,â€ he said in Cape Town.
But he also told parliament the government had to spend wisely.
Zumaâ€™s trade union allies are demanding more spending and deeper interest rate cuts, but the president is also wary of scaring off investors, say analysts.
â€œBetween now and December 2009, we plan to create about 500 000 job opportunities,â€ he told MPs.
Zuma, whose African National Congress Party (ANC) swept into power in April elections on the back of strong support from unions and the poor, cautioned against any expectations of a quick fix.
â€œThe economic downturn will affect the pace at which our country is able to address the social and economic challenges it faces. But it will not alter the direction of our development,â€ he said.
Delivery has been the ANCâ€™s weak point with past ANC governments, generating frustration at how long it has taken to redistribute wealth in the post-apartheid era.
Analysts say Zuma needs to ensure he does not alienate investors ahead of the football World Cup being hosted by South Africa in 2010.
He said a 787 billion rand spending programme announced in this yearâ€™s budget â€“â€“ and including funds for schools, transport, housing and sanitation â€“â€“ must be properly planned.
â€œIn the face of the economic downturn, we will have to act prudently â€“â€“ no wastage, no rollovers of funds â€“â€“ every cent must be spent wisely and fruitfully,â€ he said.
Anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela was among those at parliament. â€“â€“ BBC.