Opposition united in praise for speech

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan entered the National Assembly to rousing applause from all political parties, and finished his 2017 budget speech with a standing ovation that had almost everyone on their feet.

Following a speech in which he introduced a new tax bracket for people earning in excess of R1.5-million a year, allocated more money to higher education and focused heavily on inclusive growth and growing opportunities for the poor, opposition parties agreed that the budget was the best Gordhan could do in a very tight space.

DA finance spokesman David Maynier welcomed Gordhan’s efforts to raise R28billion in taxes and his attempt to balance the budget in a difficult fiscal space.

He, however, called for a comprehensive review on spending, saying there was still a lot of room to cut the R14.3-billion spent on “bloated executives and legislatures”.

EFF leader Julius Malema said: “I think it was a well-balanced budget, well thought of and within the restraints that he finds himself in with low growth.

“We have seen Pravin trying to give the poor more, even with limited resources.”

He said, however, he was hoping Gordhan would “go hard” on the issue of banks’ collusion.

“We need a Treasury that will treat corruption as corruption and not be soft on it,” Malema said.

He said the EFF had come to the National Assembly despite the presence of President Jacob Zuma.

“Pravin represents such a unifying figure during this difficult moment in our country,” Malema said.

“We may not agree with him on everything but he gives that sense of hope in a situation of hopelessness, where there is poverty of leadership in government.

“When he started speaking, the country was united, when he finished speaking, the country was united, and to our surprise some from his benches were reluctant to stand up.”

Among those who did not stand for Gordhan were ministers Bathabile Dlamini, Faith Muthambi, David Mahlobo and Des van Rooyen.

The IFP’s Mkhuleko Hlengwa said: “Let’s congratulate the minister on keeping his head above the water under very difficult personal-political circumstances, and for him to keep a very sharp and keen focus on the national interest and get the work done.”

Hlengwa said Gordhan’s budget tried to “strike a healthy balance where he tempered justice with financial cruelty”.

“He had to raise taxes, we already owe R2.2-trillion. We have to service that debt and even now we have to borrow R149-billion, so we are in dire economic straits,” he said.

Of the rumours surrounding Gordhan’s possible replacement, Hlengwa said: “Unfortunately he is a presidential appointee, but we do not believe that at this point in time our economy can afford another upset, particularly another reckless one, like the one we saw in 2015.”

Maynier said the rumours about Gordhan’s future had the ability to impact the economy.

“The constant rumours ahead of the budget suggesting that the minister may be fired and that his ultimate challenge was, in fact, to show up, are bound to diminish investor confidence in South Africa.”

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