"I'm very positive that we are going to come out of this technical recession quicker than we believe," South Africa's President Jacob Zuma told parliamentarians in Cape Town on Thursday.

Africa's most advanced economy unexpectedly contracted in the first quarter of this year, pushing it into its first recession since 2009.

South Africa's economy has undergone sluggish growth in recent years and in April it lost its investment grade credit rating when the world's two major rating agencies, Fitch and Standard & Poor's, downgraded its sovereign debt to junk status.

The downgrades came shortly after Zuma's dramatic ministerial shake-up in which he sacked respected finance minister Pravin Gordhan.

Despite the recession, Zuma said his government would forge ahead with a costly deal to build new nuclear infrastructure.

"Government is sill intent on pursuing the nuclear new-build programme at a pace and scale that the country can afford," he said.