South Africa’s ruling ANC vowed to halve unemployment by creating five million jobs Sunday as it outlined revamped economic priorities in the build-up to next year’s general elections.

The pledge was contained in a statement released at the end of a meeting between African National Congress leaders and the union and communist partners in the governing alliance which want to see new priorities to be enshrined after the downfall of the country’s president Thabo Mbeki last month.

“The creation of decent work for all South Africans, including the unemployed and underemployed, must be the primary focus of all economic policies, including industrial and trade policy,” read an alliance statement which laid out the commitment to create five million jobs.

South Africa’s exact unemployment level is a matter of contention, with official estimates putting it at 23.1 percent of the population while unofficial estimates put it at nearly 40 percent.

Speaking after the meeting in Johannesburg, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the five million figure would cut the unemployment level by more than a half.

“It will take us below the halfway mark. We aim to halve unemployment by 2014,” Mantashe told AFP.

The South African Communist Party (SACP) and Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) alliance partners are fierce supporters of pro-labour ANC president Jacob Zuma whose leadership pushed Mbeki out the door.

The summit proposed setting up a ministry of social security, increasing the age of child support grants from 14 to 18 year-olds, giving a flat benefit to unemployed workers, a basic income grant and free health care delivery as part of a national health insurance scheme.

While Mbeki oversaw an uninterrupted period of growth during his decade as president, critics say he did little to combat unemployment and the wealth gap actually increased during his time in office.

“There is the need for both continuity and change,” said the statement, adding several economic policies required review.

The alliance partners also said government should “consider introducing requirements on investments to promote investment in social infrastructure, housing for the poor and job creation.” While South Africa has escaped relatively unscathed from the global financial crisis the alliance felt it would impact on growth prospects and developmental goals.

“The global crisis will also impact upon our persisting systemic points of vulnerability — currency volatility, the current account and inflationary pressures.” The summit discussed macro-economic policy choices including inflation targeting, which has seen interest rates increased 10 times since June 2006 in a bid to curb inflation which surged to 13.7 percent in August, its highest level since 2002.

“Macroeconomic policy needs to support economic development and employment creation.” The summit resolutions are believed to be a key indicator of economic policy after a 2009 election which the ANC is expected to win, and comes ahead of Finance Minister Trevor Manuel’s mid-term budget policy statement on Tuesday.