Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s budget speech was the most heartening — and the most depressing — of the postapartheid era. Under Thabo Mbeki’s presidency, then finance minister Trevor Manuel turned every budget speech into a beguiling spectacle. A global economic boom delivered the revenue Manuel needed to combine social welfare programmes with stable taxes. President Jacob Zuma’s finance ministers live in a less forgiving world and they have an unscrupulous president willing to undermine them. Gordhan and his team did what they could within a very tight fiscal and political space. The heartening news is that few ANC ministers denied the finance minister a symbolic standing ovation. This reflects a new status quo in which a lame-duck Zuma cannot sack Gordhan without imperilling himself. The bad news is that Gordhan has identified few coherent policy proposals to secure the "inclusive economic growth" and "transformation" he now agrees should be the country’s political priorities....

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