South Africa could in the long run face the same type of political unrest that has wracked North Africa if it doesn’t move quickly to create jobs and reduce inequalities, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said on Thursday.
Gordhan’s comments came a day after he projected a much larger-than-expected budget deficit for next fiscal year – with billions of rand set aside for jobs – as the approach of elections put the government under pressure to spend more.
The ruling ANC, in power since the end in 1994 of apartheid which kept millions of blacks on the sidelines of economic activity, is under pressure to do more to slash unemployment levels of around 25 percent and provide social welfare for millions of people still mired in poverty.
On Thursday Gordhan told a post-budget breakfast meeting that South Africa should move quickly to implement a new growth policy that aims to end poverty among black South Africans.
“As South Africans we have to be frank that we are good at ideas and not always good at implementation. Let’s learn from … North Africa,” he said.
“North Africa is about allowing inequalities to grow, allowing joblessness to grow. It is about a state that hasn’t actually performed, about a minority that accumulates things for itself. If you want to follow that path for the next 20 years, we’ll end up like North Africa.”
Hundreds of people have been killed in Libya and Bahrain this month in anti-government protests sparked by upheavals that just weeks ago dislodged decades-old regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.
South Africa’s Treasury on Wednesday shaved its growth forecast for 2011 to 3,4% from 3,5% projected last October, after Africa’s biggest economy grew 2,8% last year, emerging from its first recession in nearly two decades.
Gordhan projected growth at 4,1% in 2012 and 4,4% in 2013, but those rates are still well below levels needed to reduce unemployment, with the Treasury estimating last year that annual growth of 7% was needed to make a big dent in joblessness.
The ANC is pouring billions of dollars into job promotion schemes. Besides R39-billion already earmarked for job creation and factory investment, Gordhan said the government would spend an extra R5-billion on a youth employment subsidy to get school-leavers and graduates into work.