Sun, Mar 01, 2009 - Page 6 News List

South Africa’s Zuma says more jobs is key


African National Congress President Jacob Zuma greets commuters at Johannesburg’s main railway and bus station on Friday while campaigning for the party in next month’s general elections.


At Johannesburg’s main train station, there was no denying South African presidential candidate Jacob Zuma can electrify a crowd.

Commuters swarmed to snap pictures with cellphones, reach out to touch him and snatch campaign pamphlets from his hand.

“My Prezzie!” some chanted on Friday to the candidate for the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

Speaking to The Associated Press after the rock star treatment at the station, Zuma said he was well aware he faces a huge task if he wins as expected — to jump-start the economy amid a worldwide slowdown and create jobs in a country where unemployment runs at 20 percent.

“It is humbling,” Zuma said of the wild reception. “People who really come from the townships, arriving on a train in the morning. Ordinary workers. Those are the people who need” change.

South Africans look to the governing ANC to improve their lives, and that won’t be easy in these tough global times, Zuma said.

“Everybody wants the economy to grow. Everybody is saying, ‘Let us create jobs,’” he said, citing the commuters, farmers, entrepreneurs and other South Africans he has talked with on the campaign trail.

Earlier this year, the ANC launched its campaign for the April 22 vote with promises of heavy public spending to create jobs and improve education and health. But Zuma cautioned that the world’s financial crisis would make those goals hard to reach.

With Western economies hamstrung by a credit crunch, demand for South African exports has declined and production has dropped, causing some layoffs.

The economic contracted 1.8 percent in the fourth quarter, and there are fears the decline will continue, with some experts saying an additional 250,000 jobs are at risk.

De Beers Group suspended mining in South Africa in December and early January because of low demand for its diamonds. There also are fears of job losses in gold mining and auto manufacturing.

South Africa enjoyed strong growth during the first 15 years of ANC rule, but the benefits have been slow to trickle to the poor majority. High crime, anti-foreigner violence and an electricity supply crisis last year blamed on rising demand, cheap prices and poor investment planning have raised questions about the party’s leadership.

During his interview with the AP, Zuma spoke of the need to close “the gap that has been widening all the time between rich and poor.”

But turning around South Africa’s economy amid a global crisis “is not just a simple matter,” Zuma said, adding that managing expectations would require communicating the challenges to voters.

The ANC, seen by many South Africans as the party that defeated apartheid, won overwhelming majorities in the first all-race election in 1994 and the subsequent ballots in 1999 and 2004.

It is expected to do well again this year with Zuma at the top of its ticket. But a corruption scandal surrounding him and the emergence last year of a party formed by an ANC breakaway faction could mean it will lose some parliamentary seats.

Zuma said none of the opposition parties poses a “serious” challenge and questioned whether the splinter ANC group, the Congress of the People, was ready to run, let alone govern.

He also dismissed concerns about the corruption trial that he faces. Zuma maintains he is innocent of charges that while serving as the country’s deputy president he accepted bribes to thwart an investigation into wrongdoing by a French arms company. The trial is expected to start sometime after the election.

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