Nobody can fault outgoing trade, industry & competition minister Ebrahim Patel on integrity or sheer hard work. He has been one of the few squeaky clean ministers in a government whose leaders have too frequently been more in the news for alleged shenanigans than they have for implementing measures to grow the economy and improve people’s lives. He has also been one of the few who has engaged fully with his extensive portfolio.

Too fully, some would say. And that is where the Patel problem begins. The minister leaves a mixed legacy at best. He has been in office for 15 years, first as economic development minister, then as minister of a merged trade, industry & competition department, which brought together the old trade & industry portfolio with the economic development & competition portfolio, over which Patel presided. And preside he did. He made full use of his extensive empire to stamp his own ideological brand of industrial policy on SA’s economy, using the instruments a...

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