President Jacob Zuma has broken his silence and spoken openly about the problems South Africa faces.
In a frank interview on Tuesday with international news agency Bloomberg, Zuma admitted that South Africa had a “serious struggle” on its hands in trying to reduce unemployment and boost economic growth.
This week, Stats SA released worrying unemployment figures – 25.5% of the population was jobless in the third quarter of this year, up from 25% in the second.
“You can’t say, when the economy is not growing, that your original plans will be implemented as they were,” Zuma said. “It is going to be a serious struggle.”
The economy is struggling to create jobs , putting the government’s budget under strain.
Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene last week cut his growth forecast for this year to 1.5% from 2%. The government’s aim is to boost growth to more than 5% by 2020 and reduce the unemployment rate to 14%.
Zuma’s frank admissions were made just days after university students forced his hand and compelled him to scrap proposed tuition fee increases.
“It was clear that if we did not have a solution the demonstrations would have gone further,” Zuma said.
“They were very courageous. I sympathise with them. I know that the cost of education in South Africa is very high.”
Zuma said it was “not a question you can [solve] overnight”.
He denied that last week’s protests were a sign of deepening discontent with the ANC. They were, instead, part of demands by young South Africans to ensure that blacks gained equal access to an economy still dominated by whites.
Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande has called for a wealth tax to fund the shortfall in the budget if university fees for the poor were scrapped.
After two weeks of being closed, most universities yesterday resumed lectures and preparation for examinations.
On Tuesday thousands of Economic Freedom Fighters members put more pressure on Zuma and the ruling party by marching on financial institutions in Johannesburg, demanding access to the economy.
EFF leader Julius Malema told business bosses that failure to respond to his party’s demands would lead to [them being] targeted and [their] businesses being shut down.
Malema accused the ANC of “being in bed with white monopoly capital” and “not caring about black people 21 years into democracy”.
The student protests have rattled investors, with the rand slipping 4.3% against the dollar since the start of last week.
“Our currency is being attacked by the global situation and we are trying to handle it from that angle,” Zuma said.
“South Africa is a destination for investment. I think we have everything it takes for investors to come here .
“You can’t have a flourishing budget when the economy is in trouble,” he said. “We need to have projects that generate employment, even under a very distressed situation, but we can no longer say . [that] we will indeed achieve them as we thought.”
Elvis Masoga, a political analyst and researcher at the Institute for Dialogue and Policy Analysis, said the difficulties facing the country and the possibility that the ANC’s support would fall in next year’s local government elections, made the emergence of a new breed of leaders necessary.
“These challenges… clearly indicate that there is a need for a new breed of leaders to emerge; the environment demands a change of leadership for the ANC,” he said.
On the possibility of his re-election as ANC president in 2017, Zuma said: “South Africa shouldn’t change its constitution to enable a sitting president to stand for a third term of office. We are very clear about the two terms [limit]. The issue does not arise at all. I think it is very healthy for us here in South Africa that we don’t stay forever.”
Masoga said Zuma would be committing political suicide if he stood for a third term as ANC leader.