South Africa;s President Jacob Zuma has urged South African businesses to take advantage of the opportunities that will be created by the massive new infrastructure build programme announced in the 2012 State of the Nation address.
Addressing a breakfast hosted by the New Age newspaper at Grand West Casino in Cape Town on Friday, Zuma said South Africans should take advantage of the “window period” created by his announcement on infrastructure projects, and participate in building the economy.
On Thursday night, Zuma announced that the country would spend billions of rands over the coming years, focusing on rail and road projects, economic links in five regions in the country, new universities and refurbished hospitals.
“We believe [these projects are] oing to change the economic landscape of the country and connect it to the continent,” Zuma said, adding that it was now clear for anyone where investment had to be placed in the economy.
“There are massive opportunities that are coming, let us take advantage,” he said, pointing out that, for example, South Africa had a significant coastline but was not servicing commercial shipping on a big scale.
He said the setting up of the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission in September last year showed that it was “no longer business as usual” for government, as the commission had already started identifying projects with clear timeframes.
At the same time, Zuma called on South Africa’s big companies to help develop small businesses, saying large firms that did so would benefit and grow bigger.
South African firms should also enter Africa with more vigour, he said, adding that the continent was one of the most promising investment regions in the world at the moment.
He said that while many felt that South Africa was not a powerful country, he believed otherwise.
“I believe we are very big. I have always said if Japan, an island economy, can grow, why can’t we?” Zuma said. Japan rapidly rebuilt itself after the Second World War to become one of the biggest economies in the world by the 1980s.
He believed South Africa had made progress, but added that the country still faced challenges.
With rapid urbanisation following the end of apartheid, the country found itself with a major infrastructure shortage, he said.
In answer to a question on why the country did not create many jobs last year, Zuma said he believed that South Africa “did very well” in the face of the challenges globally.
“The fact that we were able to create jobs even in that situation tells you that we didn’t do too badly.”
In answer to a question from a caller on whether factories that were closed down in Queenstown and Butterworth in the Eastern Cape would be started up again, Zuma said the government would be revitalising the rural areas and stimulating economic growth there.