Cape Town, South Africa - President Jacob Zuma on Thursday night acknowledged that South Africa was a better country 20 years after the historic first all-race elections that swept Nelson Mandela to power.
In his last State of the Nation address as President of the current government, Zuma told Parliament that South Africa was now widely regarded as a model of progress.
He listed the achievements of the successive democratic governments since Mandela took power in 1994, starting with burying an oppressive minority regime, adding they had made 'South Africa a better place to live in now than it ever was before'.
He noted that the overall crime rate had decreased by 21 per cent since 2002 and work was ongoing to make communities safer.
“One of the key focus areas is to eradicate violence against women and children. We have introduced a number of measures to respond to this challenge. These include the reopening of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units as well as the Sexual Offences Courts.”
However, he said, the country still faced inequality, poverty, and unemployment and the government's efforts were focused on eradicating these problems.
The president pointed out that violent protests had taken place again around the country in the past few weeks.
“Also worrying is what appears to be premeditated violence, as is the case with the use of petrol bombs and other weapons during protests.
'The democratic government supports the right of citizens to express themselves. The right to protest, peacefully and unarmed, is enshrined in the Constitution.
'However, when protests threaten lives and property and destroy valuable infrastructure intended to serve the community, they undermine the very democracy that upholds the right to protest.”
Turning to the economy, Zuma said developments in the United States economy had led to a rapid depreciation in the emerging market currencies, including the South African rand which depreciated by 17.6 per cent against the US dollar last year.
“The weaker exchange rate poses a significant risk to inflation and will also make our infrastructure programme more expensive.
However, export companies, particularly in the manufacturing sector, should take advantage of the weaker rand and the stronger global recovery. While we have these difficulties, we know that we can cope with this period of turbulence.”
Zuma also paid a glowing tribute to former President Nelson Mandela, who died in December, and he called on all South Africans to honour his legacy.
He said Mandela's death 'caused untold pain to our people and beyond our borders' and 'we have a duty to take his legacy forward”.