Last Wednesday was a difficult day for Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba. He knew he had bad news to deliver to the nation; this was not going to be his moment of glory. He struggled through the pre-budget parliamentary briefing, muddling concepts and dropping words and phrases such as "spending cuts" and "fiscal stimulus", apparently without noticing the contradictions. At one point, Gigaba misspoke so badly he actually said the government would not be able to bail Eskom out if the utility’s lenders called for their money.Among the possibilities were a wage freeze, a value-added tax (VAT) increase, personnel cuts to the South African National Defence Force and, of course, the sale of the state’s Telkom stake, which at least would have prevented the R3.9bn breach of the expenditure ceiling. In turn, Gigaba took the scenarios to Cabinet, which, paralysed by the spectre of the ANC’s national elective conference in December, decided to do nothing. Gigaba spent most of Thursday pleading wi...

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