Channel NewsAsia

Zuma says South Africa a 'better place' today in pitch to voters

President Jacob Zuma has urged South Africans to recognise how far the country had come since the end of apartheid, in an election-year state of the nation address.

CAPE TOWN: President Jacob Zuma urged South Africans to recognise how far the country had come since the end of apartheid, in an election-year state of the nation address on Thursday.

Insisting that his detractors did not see the good story that South Africa has to tell, Zuma reached back two decades to show how much this young nation has changed.

"South Africa is a much better place to live in now than it was before 1994," said Zuma, who hopes to win re-election on May 7 when South Africans go to the polls.

"We continue to face challenges. But life will also continue to change for the better."

In the run-up to the May general elections, overshadowed by weeks of violent protests, Zuma pointed to South Africa's "good" stories as he reported on his first five years in office.

Zuma is tasked with leading his ruling ANC party into the election -- the fifth since apartheid ended in 1994 -- amid growing frustration from voters and increased competition from opposition parties.

Despite acknowledging high unemployment levels and the rand currency's plunge against the dollar last year, Zuma voiced confidence over the nation's economic outlook.

"While we have these difficulties, we know that we can cope with this period of turbulence. We have done so before in the past five years," he said.

Zuma said the economy had been "nursed" to recovery after the recent global recession, but called for stronger growth to spur jobs, as fresh data pointed to South Africa having only 15.2 million workers out of a working-age population of 35 million.

"Jobs are now being created again. There are now 15 million people with jobs in the country, the highest ever in our history, and over 650,000 jobs were created last year," he said.

"This is still not good enough. The unemployment rate still remains high."

An appeal was also made for cool heads in the country's mining industry amid fresh tensions after a run of deadly 2012 strike violence.

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

So far this year, South Africa has been rocked by violent nationwide demonstrations over a lack of basic services and high unemployment, in which several people have died at the hands of the police.

Condemning the loss of life and violence, Zuma said the protests were also due to government success in rolling out services.

"Success is also the breeding ground of rising expectations," he said.

The address marked the first opening of democratic South Africa's parliament since the death of the nation's founding father Nelson Mandela in December.

'Disappointed but not surprised'

"The speech clearly had the focus squarely set on the upcoming May election but provided virtually no forward-looking elements on policy changes to address challenges in the economy or areas of action yet to be undertaken," said Peter Attard Montalto, analyst at Nomura Interational.

"We were disappointed (though not surprised)," he added.

Parliamentary leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance, Lindiwe Mazibuko, said the speech had "more of the same" and dismissed Zuma's target of six million "work opportunities" by 2019.

"What South Africa desperately needed to hear tonight was a bold plan to end corruption and create real, sustainable jobs in our economy," she said in a statement.

Tweet Photos, Videos and Update on this Story to  #cna