February is known as the month of love — for obvious reasons, given Valentine’s Day and its romantic and happy sentiments. For South Africans, February is also synonymous with the national budget speech. As such, it’s a time of anticipation, as well as a reality check. Over the years, it has proved to be both a kind of report card and an outlook for the state of our economy, businesses and finances.

This year, more than at almost any time in the past, we face the budget speech with deep grimness. Even if we remove emotion from our assessment of the state of our nation, the facts don’t lie: economic growth is expected to reach at best 0.7% this year; debt levels will surpass two-thirds of GDP (up almost threefold in a decade); one in three employable people remains unemployed; and, most obvious to all, we remain mired in a crippling electricity supply crisis.

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