Jacob Zuma. Picture: SUPPLIED
Jacob Zuma. Picture: SUPPLIED

President Jacob Zuma emphasised economic transformation as one of the government's key priorities in the coming year, in his state of the nation address on Thursday night.

Political freedom was not enough but needed economic freedom as well to have any meaning.

Fundamental change was needed in the ownership, management and control of the economy in favour of all South Africans - but especially the poor, who were mostly African, he said.

The majority of blacks remained economically disempowered and the racial disparities in household income remained "shockingly huge".

The pace of transformation in the workplace and the implementation of affirmative action policies remained very slow, with white males dominating the top echelons. These patterns needed to be corrected, Zuma stressed.

He said the business community accepted these transformation imperatives. "We are starting a new chapter of radical economic transformation. We are saying that we must move beyond words to practical programmes. The state will play a role in the economy to drive this transformation."

The government would use the strategic levers at its disposal to the maximum to achieve this goal, Zuma said. These included legislation, regulations, licensing, budget and procurement, as well as black economic empowerment charters to influence the behaviour of the private sector and drive transformation.

He cited the high levels of concentration in the economy, and of collusion and cartels, as barriers to transformation as they squeezed out small players and hampered the entry of black entrepreneurs.

Many of the laws and regulations he mentioned have already been passed.

Zuma noted that the property sector was also untransformed, with less than 5% being owned or managed by black people.

A draft property practitioners bill will be released by the Department of Human Settlements, with the aim of achieving a more representative sector.

The government would also expedite the registration and issuing of title deeds to beneficiaries of subsidised housing projects.

Zuma said radical economic transformation had to mean more than share ownership schemes only. It had to also mean black people being involved in the management of companies. In this regard the black industrialist programme, which had so far supported 22 entrepreneurs, was critical.

With regard to the mining industry, Zuma said the government would continue to pursue direct state involvement in mining. The Mining Company of SA Bill would be presented to the Cabinet and Parliament during the year.

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