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A few days before finance minister Tito Mboweni delivered his budget, I had a conversation with someone who is neither an economist nor a journalist. Who cares about the budget, I was asked. The non-economist verdict was that it would matter very little for the people who find themselves amid service delivery failures, whether in public hospitals or in the court system.

The debate after the budget would seem to indicate that the scepticism was well placed, showing politicians’ and unionists’ skewed priorities in the face of deep challenges in the country...

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