South Africa economic growth slows to 0.9%

The BBC's James Copnall says the figures are a "significant blow"

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South Africa's economic growth slowed sharply in the first three months of the year.

According to official figures, between January and March, the country's economy grew by just 0.9%, compared with the previous quarter.

The figure has raised concerns that Africa's largest economy is struggling to regain momentum.

It grew by 2.5% last year. Compared with the same three months in 2012, South Africa's economy grew by 1.9%.

Much of the slowdown in growth is being attributed to closures for maintenance in several crucial industries, notably the petroleum sector.

Nicky Weimar, senior economist at Nedbank, said: "To put it mildly, it's a very disappointing number."

"It's a very tricky situation for the monetary policy committee [of the central bank] - growth is obviously a lot weaker than they thought," he added.

Last week, South Africa's Reserve Bank kept interest rates at 5%, saying it was "increasingly concerned" about the economy's "deteriorating outlook".

Inflation is forecast to rise later in the year. It is currently running at 5.9%, just below the government's target of 6%.

Upward pressure is being put on prices by the weakness of the rand, which is at its lowest level in four years.

South Africa's economy has been struggling since a recession in 2009. Violent strikes in the mining sector last year saw output plunge.

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