23/11/2016 17:52 SAST | Updated 23/11/2016 18:15 SAST

Zuma: 'Stop Comparing South Africa With Other Similar-Sized Countries'

As always, President Jacob Zuma is on the defensive in Parliament

Mike Hutchings/Reuters
President Jacob Zuma answered questions at Parliament in Cape Town on Wednesday. Although, "answered" is probably a strong term.

Cape Town — "Stop comparing South Africa with other similar-sized countries." That was the message from President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday when he responded to questions in the National Assembly.

The DA's Geordin Hill-Lewis asked Zuma what initiatives his government was taking to ensure South Africa improves its rankings on the world stage.

Zuma responded, saying South Africa's economic problems could largely be attributed to the fact that the majority of its citizens had been excluded from skills development and quality education in the past.

"Those are the problems we are faced with now. In other countries everybody was at school. Here the majority was excluded – those who could have contributed massively to the economy."

In a follow-up question, the DA's Dean McPherson asked Zuma how government could be trusted with diplomatic, trade and security issues when foreign direct investment declined by "74% year-on-year".

"Well, the honourable members have different views on matters," Zuma said.

"The challenges of today are based on yesterday. This country did not educate its majority. The economy was run wrongly. We are dealing with our history as well. That's why we have difficulties that other countries don't face. If there's time I can tell you about all that," Zuma said.

Zuma laments South Africans politicising ratings move

Responding to a question from Steve Swart, ACDP MP, who asked the President what measures have been taken to ensure South Africa will not get a credit downgrade towards year-end, Zuma said the problem with South Africans is that they're " politicising " the decision that ratings agencies are about to make on the country's sovereign credit rating.

"We tend to politicise the gradings," the president said. "We pick and choose what we think ratings agencies will talk about."

Zuma listed a number of countries that had been downgraded earlier this year.

"There was France in September, the UK in June, Turkey in September to junk status, Russia, Brazil and China," Zuma said. "I'm sure some of you here have heard for the first time that all these countries – big and small – have been downgraded.

"But here we make a big issue of it even though the ratings agencies haven't even arrived yet."

Zuma reassured MPs that government has been "hard at work" to stave off a ratings downgrade.

He mentioned a number of initiatives government has been busy with over the past months:

  • R1.4bn has been committed by the private sector to invest in small enterprises;
  • companies have pledged to offer internships to 1m young work seekers;
  • there has been considerable investment in the Independent Power Producers Programme in renewables that has led to 2 500MW of energy generation; and
  • some state-owned enteprises have improved their governance.

In addition, government has budgeted over R987 billion for infrastructure development over the medium-term expenditure framework, Zuma said.

Asked by the DA's David Maynier, what his views are that a credit rating agency be set up which would be more sympathetic to the needs of Brics nations, Zuma said "there's nothing wrong with that".

"There are views and there are views on the economy," Zuma said. "There's not one view. Western countries or whatever part of the world – they all have assumptions. [The] Brics (countries) look at the world in a particular way and do their own approach to ratings."