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It was a chilly July in 2015. For months certain ministers in former president Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet were on tenterhooks as rumours of a far-reaching reshuffle of the executive swirled. The July ANC national executive committee (NEC) lekgotla was particularly tense. Then-finance minister Nhlanhla Nene presented a document to the lekgotla titled Economic Outlook and Fiscal Policy Challenges. A sombre Nene sketched a bleak picture of SA’s economic growth prospects for the next two years. He told the ANC’s top brass that slower domestic economic growth was not temporary but the "new normal" — startlingly, he acknowledged that the government was "partly responsible" for eroding SA’s growth potential. The budget for the next two years would be tight, he said, and government’s fiscal position depended on economic growth. Critically, if it remained in a "low growth trap" the state’s finances would become increasingly tight. The public sector wage agreement that had been signed recently mean...

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