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'Issues to be tackled after elections'

The president says govt will reveal its plan to deal with SA's problems after the elections.

President Jacob Zuma addresses Parliament during the 2014 State of the Nation Address. Picture: GCIS

CAPE TOWN - President Jacob Zuma says government will reveal its plan to deal with the pressing problems facing the country only after the elections.

Zuma's State of the Nation Address (SONA) last night focused on jobs, the economy and government's successes over the past 20 years.

He was speaking to a joint sitting of the National Assembly in Cape Town.

The president was met with ululation and clapping as he arrived at the parliamentary precinct.

After extending condolences on the sudden passing of IFP stalwart Ben Skosana, Zuma moved to the death of Nelson Mandela saying, "This is the first State of the Nation Address to take place in the absence of our founding president, his excellency Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela."

While Zuma acknowledged that poverty, unemployment and inequality were still daunting challenges, he did not spell out what government intended doing to deal with those issues.

Those details will come in the second SONA after the May elections when a new government is formed.

For Zuma and the ANC, the crunch elections aren't in May, but in 2019.

He said his government has spent the past year working on a five-year plan.

"The framework has been designed for the first five-year building block of the National Development Plan."

But Zuma is keeping the details under wraps until after the elections for a new government.

Pushing the pause button on policy is a clever move as it gives opposition parties little to dissect and challenge in the run up to the polls, but it also keeps voters in the dark.

Meanwhile, Zuma also used his SONA to tell union leaders they had certain responsibilities.

He appeared to depart from his prepared text when he said union leaders had to be careful that their actions didn't cause members to lose their jobs.

It seemed to be carefully aimed at the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union which is currently on strike across the platinum sector.

Zuma appeared confident as he told his audience that South Africa had a good story to tell.

He issued an unscripted warning to both union leaders and mine bosses.

"In no way can we have conflict that destroys the economy."

He appealed to both sides to work together.

"In the end, if these two sides don't work together - even if they have different interests - it affects the economy of the country."

The president claimed government's intervention to stabilise the sector was bearing fruit.

He says this year is the deadline for mining houses to improve their workers' housing and living conditions.

MIXED REACTION

There's been a mixed bag of reaction to the president's speech.

The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry's Neren Rau says there's still a lot of work to be done to create more jobs.

Zuma stated that 15 million people now had jobs, which was a record high for the nation.

But Rau says it's still not sufficient to meet the needs of the economy.

"The number of people that desire employment versus the number of people that actually have employment suffers a substantial gap. There's a lot more to do.

"Improvements that were experienced, especially against the backdrop of the financial crisis, were noteworthy but by no means sufficient."

However, economist Chris Hart says fewer jobs were created over the past five years.

"He did emphasise that jobs have been created and I think that's correct. If we break it down over the last 15 years, the last five have been a distant slow-down of actual job creation that's taken place in the economy."

Meanwhile, Zuma went off script during his address when he touched on the mining sector.

He says there can't be conflict in the industry as this affected the entire economy.

But DA Leader Helen Zille says she is not convinced Zuma's intervention will actually make much of a difference.

"Let's see if the deeds are attached to the words. There have been words every time and nothing happens."

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