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HAVING promised to create 500000 jobs before the end of last year and failed to achieve his target, President Jacob Zuma notably avoided speaking about this job creation ambition in his January 8 statement at the GWK Park Stadium in Kimberley.

Instead, the economy shed 500000 jobs in the first half of 2009 and 484000 between July and September, according to Statistics South Africa's quarterly labour force survey.

During the second half of 2009 job creation was a hot potato for the Zuma government, with Public Works Minister Geoff Doidge telling Parliament in September the target of creating 500000 jobs would be met.

Only 83900 jobs had been created at the time, yet the minister insisted that the government would meet the target.

By year-end Zuma's spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, and fellow presidential spin doctors insisted on debating whether the president had said he would create 500000 jobs or 500000 "job opportunities".

In his address to thousands who attended the ANC's 98th birthday celebrations at the weekend, Zuma did not report on the progress in the creation of jobs but merely indicated the government needed to create conditions favourable to the creation of jobs.

"To attain the objectives of creating more jobs, decent work opportunities and sustainable livelihoods, it is important that we clearly set out an inclusive economic growth path.

"This is a pressing strategic task vital to the national economy, especially in the context of the ongoing global economic crisis."

Zuma said the government should speed up the implementation of the Framework for South Africa's Response to the International Economic Crisis.

He suggested the government should intensify the "expenditure of the budgeted R787billion on improving public infrastructure".

Zuma also suggested "preserving as many jobs as possible, through an extended training period as an alternative to retrenchment; and ensuring that the funds meant to assist companies in distress flow to deserving enterprises".

He also urged the country to bear with his government as the economy recovers from its worst crisis in almost two decades.

"There are some early indications that we may be recovering from the worst of the crisis. But it should be borne in mind that this recovery may be slow and perhaps even temporary. As such, we must remain vigilant.

"It should also be expected that the creation of new jobs on a massive scale will lag behind the economic recovery," he said.

Zuma also echoed last year's resolutions of the ruling alliance summit, including the suggestion of making changes to the country's economic policies and reviewing the mandate of the Reserve Bank.

He said the global financial crisis had made changes necessary.

"Global financial markets must be regulated and governments must play an active role in the economy.

"The ANC is determined to use this space strategically to put in place a more inclusive economic growth path that addresses the major structural flaws in our economy."

He said a transformed economy would create more jobs and improve the lot of the poor.

"The most pressing challenges we face are that of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

"To address these challenges, we must simultaneously accelerate economic growth and transform the quality of that growth."

The president promised to streamline government programmes to meet the promise of creating four million new jobs by 2014.

"We have placed the creation of decent work at the centre of our efforts to address poverty and inequality, and all government policies and the programmes are meant to speak to this goal.

"Within the context of scarce resources, heavily affected by the world economic crisis, we have put in place programmes to absorb the unemployed through the use of labour intensive programmes linked to infrastructure expansion and meeting social needs.

"We are confident that the progress made in the past nine months in implementing the expanded public works programme will lay the foundation for the attainment of our target to create four million work opportunities by 2014."

The truth, according to Stats SA, is that unemployment in South Africa increased from 23,3percent to about 24,5percent by end 2009 with other reports saying no more than 40percent of the population aged between 16 and 64 had jobs.