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South Africa: Nene’s balancing act

South Africa is plagued by slow growth and escalating debt levels. So how can the country’s new minister of finance, Nhlanhla Nene, get the economy moving again while balancing the budget?

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Parliament is in session when Nhlanhla Nene, South Africa’s first black minister of finance, speaks to Euromoney. It’s also just a few weeks after Nene delivered his first budget speech to parliament on February 25 where he laid out South Africa’s fiscal goals – and highlighted its vulnerabilities.

“It’s been madness since parliament has been in session. I’ve had to be in two places at once,” says Nene, who has been splitting his time between the Treasury office in Pretoria and parliament in Cape Town, 1,500 kilometres away. 

“We need to convene a committee, appear before them and make a recommendation that we move everything to Pretoria. That would make things a lot easier right now,” he laughs. Despite the burden, Nene is focussed. “The one thing I can say about the situation I am in right now, in particular about writing the budget, is that it has been a humbling experience.” 

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It’s very difficult to work towards protecting yourself from a downgrade.