Tito must stare down SA’s ugly fiscal vista or get a change of scenery
The country is building a mountain of debt that is much less scenic than the finance minister’s idyllic hideout
You will encounter an incredible scenery and weather pattern change on the drive from Polokwane past the small town of Haenertsburg to Tzaneen, along Route 71. One minute you are passing the historic University of the North at Turfloop, the next you are in Zion City Moria – site of the biggest church in Africa. As you drive on, you will pass endless sun-scorched villages where dry watering holes are a recurring nightmare for herders and their livestock. Ten minutes later the landscape changes so dramatically it’s almost like entering another country. On the steep approach to the Magobaskloof mountain range, the sunny weather gives way to a thick of layer of cloudy mist that contrives with green lush forests to reduce visibility to a few metres. This is a place where flowing water is in such rich abundance upper-class Gautengers in 4x4s go trout fishing on weekends.
Here, finance minister Tito Mboweni has made his home on a five hectare plot, in a place that he says reminds him of the south of England, where he spent part of his youth in exile. Mboweni rarely gets off the mountain. He spends the days scouring its farmstyle cafés and the many boutique establishments. At night time he conducts a pilchards cooking show for his million followers on Twitter, who loudly disapprove of his culinary skills.
He runs the country’s finances remotely, and regularly summonses National Treasury executives to meetings at his hideout. The presentation of the country’s budget, however, is the biggest event on any finance’s minister’s calendar, and this Wednesday Mboweni has made the long trip to Cape Town to tell the nation how our finances are shaping up. Given how badly Covid has hit the economy, he will bring little if any goods news with him...