President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in his state of the nation address (Sona) that a jobs summit would be held within the next few months to harness the energies of business, labour and government behind a major job creation initiative.

The summit will look at what is needed to ensure that the economy grows and becomes more productive, and to ensure greater investment.

Ramaphosa emphasised in his speech that the most grave and pressing challenge facing the country was youth unemployment. Youth will be moved to the centre of the government's economic agenda and in March, a youth employment service would be launched, which would place unemployed youth in paid internships in companies.

"Together with our partners in business we have agreed to create 1-million such internships in the next three years," Ramaphosa said. A youth working group would be established to represent the youth and ensure that policies and programmes represented their interests.

An investment conference would also be held in the next three months targeting both domestic and foreign investors, with the aim of marketing SA. Social partners would be encouraged to form a social compact on the basis of which the drivers of an economic recovery would be identified.

"This year we will be initiating measures to set the country on a new path of growth, employment and transformation," Ramaphosa said. "We have to build further on the collaboration with business and labour to restore confidence and prevent an investment downgrade."

The decline in the manufacturing sector would have to be addressed, with the aim of achieving a reindustrialisation "on a scale and a pace that draws millions of job seekers into the economy.

Our task as South Africans is to seize this moment of hope and renewal and to work together to ensure that it makes a meaningful difference in the lives of our people.

"We are going to promote greater investment in key manufacturing sectors through the strategic use of incentives and other measures." The localisation programme and the designation of local products as well as the policy of special economic zones would continue."

The preferential procurement and black industrialist programme would also continue and competition policy would be used to open up markets to new black entrants.

"Tough decisions have to be made to close our fiscal gap, stabilise our debt and restore our state-owned enterprises to health."

Ramaphosa said there was a greater sense of optimism in the country. Business confidence had improved and foreign investors were looking anew at opportunities.

"Our task as South Africans is to seize this moment of hope and renewal and to work together to ensure that it makes a meaningful difference in the lives of our people.

"We have seen a moderate recovery in our economy and a broader sustained recovery in the global economy. Commodity prices have improved, the stock market has risen, the rand has strengthened and there are early indications that investor confidence is on the rise.

"We have taken decisive measures to address concerns about political instability and are committed to ensure policy certainty and consistency.

Transformation promises

Ramaphosa said the government would improve its capacity to support black professionals, and sanction companies that resisted its transformation efforts.

The government would use competition policy to open markets to new black entrant and invest in the development of businesses in townships and rural areas.

“Radical economic transformation requires that we fundamentally improve the position of black women and communities in the economy, ensuring that they are owners, managers, producers and financiers,” the President said.

“Our most grave and most pressing challenge is youth unemployment. It is therefore a matter of great urgency that we draw young people in far greater numbers into productive economic activity,” he said.​

Radical economic transformation was first a rallying call for ANC MP Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s eventually unsuccessful bid at becoming the party’s next president, but eventually informed much of the party’s December conference’s resolutions.

Ramaphosa said government was guided by the resolutions of the 54th national conference of the governing party to include the expropriation of land without compensation in growing agriculture and other sectors.

Ramaphosa said agriculture presented one of the greatest opportunities to significantly grow our economy and create jobs.

“Agriculture made the largest contribution, by a significant margin, to the improved growth of our economy in the second and third quarters of 2017. This year, we will take decisive action to realise the enormous economic potential of agriculture,” he said.

Ramaphosa said the government would honour its commitment to set aside at least 30% of public procurement to SMEs, co-operatives and township and rural enterprises. We will continue to invest in small business incubation.

“The establishment through the CEOs Initiative of a small business fund – which currently stands at R1.5bn – is an outstanding example of the role that the private sector can play,” he said.

He said government will reduce the regulatory barriers for small businesses and expand economic opportunities for people with disabilities.

“Among other things, the Small Enterprise Finance Agency (Sefa) has launched a scheme to develop and fund entrepreneurs with disabilities called the Amavulandlela Funding Scheme,” he said.

He said the government would pursue a comprehensive approach that made effective use of all the mechanisms at its disposal.

The rand strengthened by a few cents to the dollar during President Cyril Ramaphosa’s maiden state of the nation address on Friday. At the start of the presentation, the rand was at R11.62 to the dollar, firming to R11.58 by the time Ramaphosa had finished speaking. The local currency reached a three-year best level of R11.56 to the dollar earlier on Friday.

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