Despite the global economic downturn and the country's worst recession, President Jacob Zuma vowed, in his first State of the Nation address, to create half a million jobs in six months, but he acknowledged it would be tough to meet all his election promises.
"The economic downturn will affect the pace at which our country is able to address the social and economic challenges it faces. But it will not alter the direction of our development," he said. The thrust of his speech was on tackling poverty but he reminded the nation of the tough times ahead.
He intends using the R787 billion Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) - which he said had already created one million jobs - to help more unemployed people enter the job market.
"The second phase of the programme aims to create about four million job opportunities by 2014. Between now and December 2009, we plan to create about 500 000 job opportunities," he said.
Zuma said people who did not get work through the programme, would "continue to require state social assistance".
His 10 priorities aimed at fighting poverty included economic growth, rural development, health and education, poverty alleviation and making it easier to do business in South Africa, including assistance for small and medium enterprises, focusing on black economic empowerment in the state's procurement strategies.
His priorities were "being introduced under difficult economic conditions", but Zuma said he would fight to prevent job losses.
"There is an agreement in principle between government and the social partners on the introduction of a training layoff.
"Workers who would ordinarily be facing retrenchment due to economic difficulty would be kept in employment for a period of time and re-skilled," he said.
"We will support the work of the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration to assist employers and workers to find alternatives to retrenchments through the relevant legal process."
Another measure would see that the "government buys more goods and services locally, without undermining our global competitiveness or pushing up costs beyond acceptable levels". Zuma threatened to crack the whip on poor service delivery, saying: "We have repeatedly stated our commitment to fight corruption in the public service.
"We will pay particular attention to combating corruption and fraud in procurement and tender processes, application for drivers' licences, social grants, IDs and theft of police case dockets. Let me emphasise that we all have a role to play in this war against crime."
He repeated his promise to establish a hotline in the Presidency so citizens could raise concerns directly with his officials. He also warned educators: "We reiterate our non-negotiables. Teachers should be in school, in class, on time, teaching, with no neglect of duty and no abuse of pupils. The children should be in class, on time, learning, be respectful of their teachers and each other, and do their homework.
"To improve school management, formal training will be a pre-condition for promoting teachers to become principals or heads of department. I will meet principals to share our vision on the revival of our education system."
On health, Zuma said: "We are seriously concerned about the deterioration of the quality of health care, aggravated by the steady increase in the burden of disease in the past decade and a half."
But he avoided the issue of the ANC's proposed national health insurance system. He also tried to soothe irate taxi drivers.
"In April this year, I gave an undertaking to the taxi industry leadership to defer negotiations relating to the operation of the Bus Integrated Rapid Transit system until after the elections. We undertook to allow more time to deal properly with the concerns of the industry. On the 11th of June the Minister of Transport will resume discussions with the industry."
Discussing the shaky transition that catapulted him to power in the ANC, Zuma said the presence of his predecessor and erstwhile rival Thabo Mbeki in the chamber was confirmation that South Africa's democratic centre had held.
"This is evidenced by the presence here of our icon Madiba, who laid the foundation for the country's achievements, and that of former president Thabo Mbeki, who built on that foundation.
"The continuity is also evident in the fact that former president Kgalema Motlanthe is now the deputy president of the republic, after a seamless transition, making us a unique country in many respects," he said.
Despite a frosty relationship with the judiciary, Zuma reassured judges of their independence - but said transformation and "entrenching internal systems of judicial accountability" was also critical.