FINANCE Minister Tito Mboweni on his way to deliver the latest Budget. Note the checked shirt, a departure from the attire usually associated with a person in his position. The South African
Tito Mboweni did something that no other finance minister has done in recent times - he wore a checked shirt when delivering the Budget statement in Parliament.

But Mboweni is not your typical finance minister. He is a maverick who ordinarily would have been deemed too independent and outspoken to be a finance minister.

His independence was shaped by his decade-long stint as Governor of the Reserve Bank. In terms of our Constitution, the central bank must act independently and without fear, favour or prejudice - something Mboweni took most seriously.

He asserted his independence early in his Budget speech when he pointed out what he was presenting was in the best interests of our people and country, not the narrow objectives of any political party.

It was a big statement to make three months before a general election, but he was true to his word.

We don’t agree with opposition parties who claim this year’s Budget was designed to keep voters happy. As a rule, any opposition will criticise the ruling party - even more so in an election year.

What Mboweni presented was our reality. It was the culmination of what President Cyril Ramaphosa has referred to as the “nine wasted years” and it was not pretty.

We are spending a lot more than we earn in taxes. As a result, we have to borrow about R1.2billion a day.

It does not come cheaply because the loans we are taking cost us about a billion rand a day in interest. That is more money than almost anyone in South Africa will earn in a lifetime.

With the economy not showing any signs of meaningful growth, this situation is not likely to improve in the next few years.

It is no wonder that Mboweni turned to the Bible for comfort. Not once. Not twice. But three times. What quickly became clear with this year’s Budget was that irrespective of who wins the May elections, South Africans are in for a lot more pain over the next few years.

However, we have no choice but to change if we are to get out of the debt trap we’ve dug. It starts with answering Mboweni’s question: do we still need these (state-owned) enterprises?

He reflected the spirit of the change needed with his choice of shirt. But the impact for all of us will be much bigger than lines on a shirt.

** Aakash Bramdeo is the editor of the Sunday Tribune