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In the winter of 1995, former president Nelson Mandela asked Trevor Manuel, then minister of trade and industry, to come to his office. Thabo Mbeki, then deputy president, was in Mandela’s office when Manuel arrived. Mandela said: "Chaps, look, Chris has come to me and says he needs to leave." Chris Liebenberg, then finance minister, had agreed to table the March 1996 budget. After that, said Mandela, "I think I must appoint Trevor." "Keep this thing under wraps," he advised. "And, Trevor, you must use this time wisely to learn about what happens in the finance ministry." Gill Marcus, who had returned from exile a few years before, chaired the portfolio committee on finance in Parliament. She had realised, as had Liebenberg, that the country inherited from the apartheid government was essentially bankrupt. "We were virtually in a debt trap, having to borrow to pay interest," she told me. Worse, nobody knew exactly what the debt was. Andrew Donaldson, then a young Eastern Cape econom...

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