The financial press greeted February’s budget with uncharacteristic enthusiasm. I can barely remember the last time anything concerning the Ramaphosa government garnered such approval in these and similar pages. Finally, it was widely said, we have a budget that registers the reality of SA’s condition. A decade late, the government has come to understand that growth has slowed and the fiscus cannot be used indefinitely to keep allies happy. The bubble of illusion in which the ANC has wrapped its core constituencies is finally being popped.

I struggle to share in this enthusiasm. It is true that in the coming time the ANC will increasingly be forced to distribute the pain that attends stagnation, but this is no way to do it. The budget should not be understood in isolation. It means what it does because of what else is going on around it. And the most painful thing happening in the world of governance right now is the government’s shocking and unforgiveable response to the Covi...

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