Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe during a press conference on May 19, 2013 in Pretoria.
JOHANNESBURG - The South African government said Monday it was confident that the continent&39;s most advanced economy would avoid a downgrade to junk investment status, even as unemployment hit a new high.
"Our economy which is currently at its lowest growth path since the 2008 world economic crisis, can and will be fixed," Jeff Radebe, a senior advisor to President Jacob Zuma, told foreign correspondents.
He spoke as the national statistical office released figures showing that unemployment for the first quarter of the year reached the highest level in at least eight years.
"Employment declined by 2.2 percent... which combined with an increase in the number of unemployed persons of 521,000 resulted in an unemployment rate of 26.7 percent," StatsSA said in a statement.
Growth of South Africa&39;s economy has slowed in recent years.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) last week forecast South Africa&39;s economy will this year grow at a meagre 0.6 percent.
Moody&39;s rating agency last week maintained South Africa&39;s status at two notches above junk status, but shifted the outlook from "stable" to "negative".
Two other international rating agencies, Standard and Poor&39;s and Fitch, are expected to rate South Africa next month.
"We remain very positive that S and P and Fitch global ratings will also not lower our nation&39;s rating to a non-investment grade," Radebe said.
Radebe told AFP that South Africa would "weather the storm" of its recent economic troubles.
"We have not lost our mojo, that&39;s why Moody&39;s maintaining our investment grade is a reflection that our economy is resilient in spite of the global economy downturn, in spite of the domestic challenges," he said.
President Jacob Zuma has come under heavy criticism for his economic record and several damaging corruption scandals.
Opposition parties and some stalwarts of the anti-apartheid struggle have called for him to step down, but the 74-year-old retains the loyalty of many in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.
Radebe told AFP that "a lot" can be done "to improve the image of South Africa" but "I don&39;t think we should apportion all the ills of South Africa to one person".