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The president is expected to focus on the economy and job creation in his state of the nation speech, which signals the opening of parliament for the year.
ECONOMIC reform is expected to top President Zuma’s state of the nation speech this year, along with social transformation and improving access to basic services.

To be delivered on Thursday, the speech is themed: “Celebrating the legacy of freedom through strengthening the link between parliament and the people”.

Zuma will give his annual address on Thursday, 10 February at 7pm in front of a joint sitting of parliament, in the National Assembly in Cape Town. He will use the occasion to address ordinary citizens and parliamentarians about the government’s performance over the past year and to outline its plans for the current year.

Much focus is expected on the government’s New Growth Path, which aims to create at least five million jobs in the next 10 years in strategic economic areas. The strategy was introduced late last year after the economy shed about a million jobs during the global economic crunch. It is the fourth economic plan that has been mapped out in the past 16 years.

It mainly focuses on developing new skills and social partnerships. However, it has been criticised by economists who say that if the government wants to grow the economy, it should rather focus on attracting foreign investment and creating a sustainable economic environment for foreign businesses.

At the time of its announcement, Collins Chabane, the minister in the Presidency, said: “The new growth path is a broad framework that sets out a vision and identifies key areas where jobs can be created.”

In his last state of the nation address, Zuma spoke of the government’s essential priorities, including creating jobs, overhauling the health system, giving rural development precedence, providing dignified human settlements, reforming land, combating crime and repairing the education system.

Updates on these and other pertinent issues are expected to be heard.

Last year, Zuma said the government’s education targets were simple but censorious to lack of commitment from stakeholders. On rural development, he said the government was working towards upgrading informal settlements and providing proper services and land tenure by at least 2014.

The government would invest in the development of young people in an effort to ensure a future skilled and capable workforce that could support economic growth. It had already set ambitious targets for skills development.

On health, the president said the government would continue to improve its health care system through building and upgrading hospitals and clinics, and improving working conditions in the sector. His government was undertaking interventions to lower maternal mortality rates, to reduce new HIV infections and to treat HIV and tuberculosis.

Zuma also promised a tougher stance on crime and assured every citizen that they would feel safe.

Service delivery would be prioritised; however, the anarchy that characterised protests would not be tolerated. Municipalities must improve the provision of housing, water and sanitation, electricity, waste management and roads, he said.

The State of the Nation coincides with the opening of parliament for the year. As usual, the evening will be a glamorous affair, preceded by a procession of the nine premiers, Speakers of legislatures and the judge presidents, followed by the deputy president and the president.

There will be a military parade and red carpet reception for members of parliament, a 21-gun salute by the South African National Defence Force, the national anthem will be played by the Navy Band and SAA jets will fly past.

Former president Thabo Mbeki; former chief justice Arthur Chaskalson; the chairperson of the Africa Union Commission, Dr Jean Ping; and the chairperson of the United Kingdom Commonwealth Executive Committee, Sir Alan Haselhurst, are among the dignitaries expected to attend.

In keeping with the changes he introduced last year, Zuma will deliver his speech in the evening so that every citizen, including students and those working during the day, can watch the proceedings.

The speech will be broadcast live on SABC 2 and Etv, on radio and it will be streamed live on Parliament’s website.

Chabane said television viewership had increased last year compared to previous years. In 2010, about 2,5 million people watched the speech and opening of parliament on SABC 2 and about 1,3 million on Etv, a marked increase on the two million viewers who watched on both channels in the previous year.

“We are convinced that more South Africans will use this opportunity to hear firsthand the line of march from the president for the year 2011,” he said.

The president will spend Wednesday resting at his official residence in Cape Town and putting the final touches to his speech. He will then attend the debate of the state of the nation scheduled for 15 and 16 February and reply to questions a day after, on 17 February.

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