South Africans can do more by working together

Jacob Zuma

Jacob Zuma

Recent economic news has not been encouraging. As the global economy heads into a recession, demand for South Africa's products is shrinking. Our growth is slowing, and a number of companies are talking about retrenchments.

It is clear that the effects of the global crisis have now reached our shores. Despite this, we are better off than many other countries. In many ways, this is thanks to the policies the ANC has pursued over the last 15 years. We have managed the economy responsibly, and have taken care to bring down government debt, which has ensured that we now have more resources available to respond to people's needs.

Our financial sector is well regulated and has remained intact while banks and investment companies across the world have been collapsing.

Our economy has achieved the longest uninterrupted period of sustained growth in recent history. For the first time in many years, the number of new jobs created has been greater than the number of people entering the job market.

Since the last elections, in 2004, the economy has been creating around half a million new jobs a year. These are achievements of which we should all be proud.

The economic conditions that the ANC government has sought to create have meant that, so far, we have been spared the worst. The period ahead will certainly be difficult, particularly for workers and the poor.

But we have the means to reduce its impact, and to ensure that our economy emerges with a solid foundation for faster economic growth and job creation.

Just as our economy has picked up pace, we have hit a speed bump on the road to shared prosperity. Fortunately, our shock absorbers are in good condition.

So we will slow down, but can expect - with the right policies and working together - to accelerate again after this patch.

The central element of the ANC's plan for the next five years is the creation of decent work. This remains our priority, even during this difficult period.

Thanks to the responsible management of public finances, government can now undertake a massive investment programme to expand and upgrade our economic infrastructure.

This will include extensive further development of our road and rail network, the building of electricity generation and distribution capacity, improving telecommunications infrastructure, and building dams and houses.

This programme will have many benefits. It will bring much-needed investment into the economy, stimulating activity and creating demand for products. It will create jobs, particularly in construction, but also in support industries.

By improving the country's economic infrastructure we will be reducing the cost of doing business, and will make it a more attractive investment destination.

With a better rail system and more efficient port operations, it is less expensive and much easier for a manufacturing company, for example, to move their products around the country and to export them. With better, more reliable and cheaper telecommunications networks, SA becomes more attractive to companies in the IT sector.

The investment programme will also have a direct impact on people's lives. A significant portion of the money is being spent on public transport, reducing costs and travelling time. It will provide for an expansion of the electricity grid, more reliable water supply, and will significantly improve the rate at which houses are built for those who still need them.

Alongside this massive investment, the ANC's plan involves the further expansion of the public works programme, providing work opportunities for greater numbers of people.

Already public works has exceeded its targets, having created more than a million work opportunities. The plan is to expand it further, creating opportunities for work and skills development in infrastructure and meeting social needs. This will mean employing people in home-based care, crèches, school cleaning and renovation, community gardens, removal of alien vegetation, tree planting and school feeding.

There is much that an incoming ANC government can and will do to stimulate the economy and improve people's lives. But the success of all these efforts will depend on building a solid partnership with the people, and among all key sectors of society.

We should therefore be encouraged by the recent agreement reached by government, labour and business to respond to the international economic crisis. It is a practical example of the type of cooperation that is needed at this time to save jobs and ensure the economy continues to grow.

But cooperation is needed not only at a time of crisis. We also need to work in partnership when this storm has passed, to ensure that we accelerate economic growth and the creation of decent work to tackle poverty and improve people's lives.

As a nation, in partnership with each other, we have achieved much over the last 15 years. As we face the future - we can do more by working together.

lZuma is president of the African National Congress