Budget Watch

Was it a Zuma, or Ramaphosa Budget?

Gigaba the messenger

Would the national budget, introduced on Wednesday, have been substantially different if Mr. Jacob Zuma was still the president of South Africa?

The answer to this question is probably both “no,” in terms of the hard figures, and “yes” in terms of the political undertones with which it would have been delivered, and in terms of the reactions from important institutions like the international credit ratings agencies.

The presence of Cyril Ramaphosa in the presidency made all the difference in the world to probably the political undertones in its delivery, and to the reception received.

In short, it was not only delivered in balanced, sober business-like terms, but with Mr Ramaphosa at the head of executive that will implement it over the next twelve months, the message of the budget was believed.

More than it is usually the case with national budgets, which is a team effort over many months, the Minister of Finance was not much more than the bearer of message of the team under the leadership of the head of state.

 And, yes if judged only on his own merit, and against the background of the recent history in the political environment, Minister Malusi Gigaba’s word might not have carried much weight during his maiden, and probably last, budget speech.

However, the official opposition Democratic Alliance’s (DA) proverbial attempt to kill the messenger even before he delivered his message, was probably counterproductive.  

It is general knowledge that Minister Gigaba probably does not have many days left in his present portfolio and might still get legally entangled in the unravelling of the Zupta state capture saga. However, clearly the rating agencies, for one, looked beyond that and concentrated on the message itself.

Yesterday, the day after the budget, the Treasury’s Director-General, Dondo Mogajane told parliament's joint finance committee that the department has spoken telephonically to the agencies, and that Fitch, Moody’s and S&P Global have all applauded the budget.

The DA, clearly having gone into full election campaign mode, apparently has not yet come to grips with the fact that they have lost their most important political weapon, Jacob Zuma, and could just not withstand the opportunistic impulse to attack the messenger.

The political environment in South Africa has change dramatically over the past ten days, or so. For now, the ANC seem to be benefiting greatly from the new situation, but it is still early days. Some serious hurdles, like a cabinet reshuffle and ongoing investigations into events during the Zuma-days, with possible prosecutions of more prominent political figures, might still wait ahead.  

There is another year ahead, with one mid-term budget adjustment and a full budget on top of the huge expectations for an economic turnaround presently building, before the general election arrives.

No honeymoon, not even a political one, last that long. Come the next budget, Mr Ramaphosa and the ANC led by him, will be tested on own merit. For now, the mood of it can only be better than the Zuma days, will not last forever.

by Intelligence Bulletin Team

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