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Zuma has ambitious plans for the economy

Zuma said the country needs a mix of coal, shale gas, nuclear and renewable energy to power the economy.

President Jacob Zuma addresses Parliament during his State of the Nation Address on 17 June 2014. Picture: GCIS

CAPE TOWN - President Jacob Zuma has announced urgent steps to tackle turmoil in the mining sector and to ease the country's energy supply crunch.

Zuma put the economy at the front and centre of his State of the Nation Address (Sona) in Parliament last night.

It was the president's second Sona for 2014.

Making his first public appearance after a 10-day break to rest from campaign trail fatigue, Zuma did not make the traditional walk up Parliament's red carpet. Instead, he was shuttled to the National Assembly steps in a white Mercedes bus.

His voice sounded slightly strained as he started speaking but seemed to gain strength as he went along.

He appeared to be more direct about issues facing the economy than he has been in the past.

Unveiling the government's plan for the next five years, Zuma said it will be focused on making the economy grow in order to tackle poverty, inequality and unemployment.

He also said government is committed to ensuring the ambitious target of five percent growth is met by 2019.

Zuma said turmoil on the mines and the tight electricity supply are holding back the economy.

He said he will now drive plans agreed to after the Marikana massacre to improve miners' living conditions while his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa will lead talks to mend labour relations in the sector.

FOCUS ON ENERGY

Zuma said the country needs a mix of coal, shale gas, nuclear and renewable energy to power the economy.

He also said the government will look at fast-tracking procurement and delivery.

He clearly wants some kind of bargain between labour and business to be hammered out at the National Economic Development and Labour Council.

But it's clear that he and the ANC are worried about how South Africa will face its energy needs in the future.

SONA 'MUTED AND MEDIOCRE'

At the same time, opposition parties have described the president's address as muted and mediocre, saying his speech fell short of what is needed to grow the economy and mend the mining industry.

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema says the speech was thin on detail when it came to economic change.

"He says radical economic transformation - but after that sentence, the following sentence says 'we will continue to do this.' It doesn't say we're going to change from this to that. You can't say 'radical economic transformation' and then say we'll continue with the same policy."

At the same time, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has questioned why the president often makes mention of the National Development Plan (NDP) but seemingly fails to ensure government acts on the programme.

DA leader Helen Zille says Zuma didn't mention anything new .

"He certainly didn't tell us how he's going to implement the NDP. I think at the heart of the president's dilemma is he knows that if he wants to go for growth and jobs, he cannot hold the Tripartite Alliance together."

But ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe has defended Zuma's speech.

"It is action oriented and a translation and adaptation of the manifesto into a programme."

For more on the Sona, click here.