It is a measure of how far SA has come, as it tries to get back on its feet, that it was finance minister Tito Mboweni who stood up in parliament this week to brief president Cyril Ramaphosa on the country’s finances — rather than the cartoon villains of previous years, like Malusi Gigaba, Des van Rooyen or Jacob Zuma. At the same time, it’s a measure of just how hard that journey is that the best Mboweni had to offer SA during his maiden budget speech was some cosmetic signals, rather than any booming plan to miraculously produce 3% growth. Those tweaks — like a freeze on MPs’ salaries and plans to cut the public service by 25,000 people, as well as some stern words for Eskom in exchange for a R69bn bailout — seemed admirable enough, if short of what some hoped. It lays bare the essential fact that Mboweni was in a corner, in way that no other finance minister has been since democracy. It meant that Mboweni, a flashy guy known for his penchant for cigars, fine wine and fly-fishing,...

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