FW de Klerk once said, “Australia’s greatest problem is that it has no great problem- nobody can say that about South Africa.”

While South Africa in the past few days lived up to VI Lenin’s aphorism ‘there are decades when nothing happens and weeks when decades happen ‘– I found myself faraway “Down Under”.

I witnessed first-hand, from Tasmania, an update of the De klerk reference. While SA was removing one president and installing another, the Australian media oxygen was consumed with the antics of its sexually incontinent deputy prime minister.

Barnaby Joyce, a rum character who, like de Klerk once did, heads a party named the Nationals, was under huge pressure to resign his office due to impregnating a staffer while still married, all the while proclaiming ‘family values’.

Hypocrisy, once defined by Pieter Dirk Uys as the Vaseline which greases all politics is apparently universal.

On Wednesday, I barely had time to rub away the jet lag, when I watched with wonder our local hypocrite-in-chief, finance minister Malusi Gigaba, deliver his maiden budget.

And whatever his other shortcomings, Gigaba is nothing other than finely tailored. But the desperation budget he delivered was composed entirely of a hair shirt.

It took him one-and- half hour to deliver, but in the social media platforms to which our finance minister is a devotee, it was summed up in one neme replete with a grinning Gigaba: “ We stole your money, now you must pay us back.”
In truth, Gigaba would rather give up his self-confessed addiction to Candycrush than ever quote de Klerk. But another eminence, whose quotes were thrust in the finance minister’s face by opposition chief whip John Steenhuizen, was Judge Neil Tuchten of the Gauteng North High Court.
In an unedifying legal fight with the Oppenheimer family over rights to a private jet terminal, Gigaba emerged as the chief defender of the Gupta family interests. Yet having acted in his previous job at home affairs as the ex-Saxonwold emigres’ hired hand, magically on budget day he transformed himself as the enemy of state capture.

But as the judgment revealed, the minister, who demanded savage penalties from the tax payer for the state plunder in which he was a leading light, is a perjurious liar.

Impossible then for him to demand tax morality from his now overburdened citizenry, exactly what his bad news budget requires. But demand he did on payment day for the profligacy, theft and populist promises of the Zuma era. Or as commentator Eusebius McKaiser said, with considerable understatement, “ Gigaba is the wrong person to ask taxpayers to dig deep again to plug the giant hole (around R100bn at one estimate) created by the state capture nightmare in which he has been a major character”

But while Gigaba shied away from quotes from either de Klerk or Judge Tuchten, he felt it safe to offer a reference from a father of African liberation, Julius Nyerere.

Nyerere, will be long remembered, even nineteen years after his death, for many accomplishments –the fight for liberation, the ousting of Idi Amin and the unification of Tanzania. But as an economic role-model he was a disaster: he used his authoritarian powers to enforce his ruinous programme of forced collectivisation (Ujamaa) on an unwilling populace, and left office after 24 years having beggared his country into enervating poverty.

But on the other side of his highly ideological political approach was his personal self-effacement. He retired in modesty, and rejected the high living opulence so beloved of other strong men in his neighbourhood. No Nkandlas for him.

Because the background noise surrounding Gigaba is so intense, it is easy to lose sight of one essential takeaway from this week’s budget. It was almost free of any ideology. Grand plans for ‘radical economic transformation’ and the grab-bag of populist grandstanding other than the unaffordable (in view of so many other social ills requiring rectification) free fees for university students, were mostly absent.

Gigaba, might be a poster child for state capture, but on Wednesday, at least, he allowed himself to be captured by the treasury mandarins, who have to push back against the decade of near zero growth and state plunder for which Zuma will be chiefly remembered.

But from right-field of the commentariat another criticism hit Gigaba . Ethics aside, their complaint was Gigaba’s inability to plot a course to decent growth and pilot some real plans for structural economic reforms.

They forget that ANC policy is unfriendly terrain for crucially needed labour market reform and other pro-growth measures. But if Ramaphosa rids himself of the state capturers, including Gigaba, his promised ‘new dawn’ will be, at least, not a false sighting.

  • Leon (@TonyLeonSA), a former leader of the opposition, now chairs Resolve Communications and is a senior adviser to K2 Intelligence of London
  • Featured in the Sunday Times / TimesLive