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Finance minister Nhlanhla Nene’s testimony to the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture was certainly gripping. Nene testified that he repeatedly refused to sign a letter committing SA to a Russian nuclear build programme. He detailed how the finance ministry denied government guarantees to PetroSA that would have enabled the parastatal to purchase assets from Malaysian giant Petronas. He also explained that his veto over former SAA chair Dudu Myeni’s proposals to manipulate an Airbus contract deeply antogonised then president Jacob Zuma. Nevertheless, despite the impression Nene’s testimony has created, the embattled situation of the National Treasury is more or less a permanent condition. It is true that Zuma helped the Gupta family climb to the top of SA’s dung heap of corruption and rent-seeking. But the dung pile itself predates — and will certainly postdate — his presidency. The Treasury has always been a target for hostility. It denies politicians opportunities to bo...

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