Few countries in transition have managed to get a grip on their public finances as well as South Africa did after the advent of democracy in 1994. The speed with which the young democracy achieved fiscal stability was rewarded initially with strong growth and an investment-grade credit rating.

But 30 years later South Africa, now a junk-rated delinquent, faces a seminal general election having squandered that strong start. In the past 15 years, the country has wiped out all the fiscal progress made in the first 15...

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