Jacob Zuma used his last state of the union address before upcoming spring parliamentary elections to highlight economic performance over the past 20 years, with gross domestic product now standing in excess of 3.5 trillion rand (ZAR) ($317 billion).
Looking ahead, Zuma said the development of shale gas in the country’s semi-desert Karoo region would be an economic “game-changer”.
“Having evaluated the risks and opportunities, the final [shale] regulations will be released soon and will be followed by the processing and granting of licences,” Mr Zuma said in his address to legislators on 13 February.
An updated draft Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) for electricity for 2010-30 by South Africa’s Department of Energy, which is scheduled to be formally released next month, projects a possible fall in gas prices resulting from large-scale exploitation of shale gas – leading to a switch in electricity generation from coal and nuclear towards gas.
However, Zuma said the government would still push ahead with plans to procure some 9,600 megawatts of new nuclear generating capacity, although he gave no details.
"To speed up regulatory and licensing approvals for environmental impact assessments, water licences and mining licences, parliament is currently finalising measures to cut to under 300 days the time it takes to start a mine – from application to final approvals," he added.
And as more of the country’s wealth is being generated via the internet and telecommunications, Mr Zuma said private and public sector initiatives for laying fibre-optic cables would be “significantly expanded” beyond the 37,000 kilometres of cables laid in the past five years.
The president also stressed the importance of producing goods locally. In the past two years alone, more than 20,000 minibus taxis and 330 buses were assembled domestically and the state plans to procure at least 75% of its goods and services from South African producers in the next five years.
Meanwhile, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa is set to spend more than ZAR 120 billion over the next 10 years on new trains.