Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan probably delivered his last budget speech yesterday. Contained within it are a few notable proposals, but which hardly constitute the radical economic agenda espoused by President Jacob Zuma.
Yet, Gordhan went much further than Zuma did in his state of the nation address to articulate his understanding of the radical economic transformation label.
“The litmus test of our programmes must be what they do to create jobs, eliminate poverty and narrow the inequality gap,” Gordhan said, establishing in his words a primary architecture for a newly-envisioned economic future.
He said it had to be mass-based by creating “new assets, capabilities and opportunities”, not simply through redistribution.
Gordhan wants “new technologies” and “new activities” on the road toward a modern and diversified economy. Added to that is “new access to markets” with a reshaping of our spatial environments to incorporate those on the fringes.
He appealed to South Africans to build a new resolve and to commit to transparent rule of law, to protect our democracy. There was more, but the essential tenet sounded like a rejection of all that Zuma stands for.
The message was clear: Zuma does not represent the new; he is not a paragon of virtue or lawful adherence; and he is most certainly not a champion of the poor. Gordhan’s vision of radical change is, in short, everything that Zuma is not.
That said, it remains to be seen whether this was a budget to kick-start our stubborn growth. There is very little to suggest it is.
Gordhan’s key aim clearly was to fund a R28-billion revenue shortfall and predictably he turned to taxes, levies and duties, one of which – a 45% tax on annual incomes above R1.5-million – elicited a satisfying silence from parliament’s shellshocked MPs.
Pushing the transfer duty threshold on properties to R900 000 is a positive (for home ownership), as is the decision to raise tax-free savings limits to R33 000 a year.
This budget won’t save South Africa. Neither will it sink us. That job could fall to someone else.