PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma will be caught between a rock and a hard place today as he delivers his maiden State of the Nation Address in the middle of an economy shedding jobs.
Economists say they expect Zuma to assure South Africans that he will not depart from the ANC manifesto - but also believe that the government will not move with the same speed now that the country has entered its first recession in 17 years.
Sizwe Nxedlana, an economist with FNB's commercial division, says that Zuma would do well to put job creation "at the centre" of all government projects.
"If he makes job creation the centre pillar, it would be a continuation of the policies that have kept the country's economy stable and created jobs.
"People must remember that the South African economy created close to two million jobs between 2002 and 2008."
He, however, warned that the economy would continue to shed jobs.
"Because the economy is shrinking it will continue to shed jobs but maybe not as much as it did in the first quarter of 2009, when 208000 jobs were lost.
Zuma, a man elected on a populist ticket, steps on to the podium as Cosatu threatens to lead nationwide wage strikes.
Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said the labour federation wanted Zuma not to depart from the "fundamental principles of creating jobs, reducing poverty and reducing the inequality gap" in society.
"We appreciate the very difficult conditions brought about by the recession, but we would urge him not to depart from the commitments of the ANC manifesto.
"We hope he will send a message of hope, especially to the unemployed and the poor."
He says Zuma should not only commit the government to saving jobs but should also strive to create more jobs. "There are still many vacancies in the public sector and these must be filled urgently because this would also improve the pace of service delivery.
"There is also an opportunity to create work for the youth through the expanded public works programme and to also include them in the fight against crime as the minister of police has already announced."
Somadoda Fikeni, a political analyst with the Human Sciences Research Council, said Zuma would be expected "to manage and lower expectations".
"He has to make it clear that the current economic conditions will not make it possible for government to do everything it wanted to do."
He said the creation of new departments will delay progress since they were still being established. "The new departments still need to be oiled and geared for action and this could take months."
He said Zuma would recap on the ANC's five key areas - health, education, unemployment, rural development, crime - outlined in the party's manifesto.
Zuma is also expected to assure the international community of the country's state of readiness to host the Fifa 2010 Soccer World Cup tournament.
Senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies. Prince Mashele. agreed with Fikeni that Zuma's speech would revolve around the ANC's key priorities.
"He will talk big on rural development and agriculture. On the economic front, other than making a promise to retain jobs through the expanded works programme, it will be a lot of rhetoric."