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The chunky budget review that goes with the finance minister’s budget speech is always a more useful guide to fiscal realities than the speech itself. And the review tabled in parliament yesterday goes in hard from the start. The government will over the next three years pay more for the interest on its debt than it will spend on health, social development or peace and security, finance minister Enoch Godongwana wrote in his foreword. Stabilising the debt burden is therefore essential, he says.

The review goes on to set out just how fragile SA’s public finances are, despite what it calls the “flatter to deceive” numbers resulting from this year’s revenue windfall. With a debt burden heading towards R5-trillion, and debt service costs now consuming 21c of every rand of revenue the government collects — about 5% of GDP — SA has used up its resources dealing with the crises it has already faced. It has no space to deal with further crises, nor room to tackle social and e...

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