Refusing to Budget an Inch

Finance minister Pravin Gordhan caused terrible trouble in the Trovato household this week with his reckless talk of budgets and frameworks and belt-tightening measures.

Where I come from, budget is a dirty word. Even as a child, the concept was an unfamiliar one.

Once my father got paid, we would live high on the hog for around 17 days, then spend the next week wandering about in filthy rags scavenging for grubs and spitting at the neighbours.

Not for us the careful apportioning of resources that we might live modestly for the entire month. What is the point in saving for a rainy day when you live in Durban? I would save up my pocket money for an hour or so, then tell my mother it looks like rain and run to the shop to fill up on toxic confectionery that, years later, would make my teeth fall out and my brain go soft. No regrets there, then.

The family motto was: “If you have it, blow it, and to hell with the consequences.” It’s a credo I have lived by for centuries. That’s right. I am immortal. If you wish to join this exclusive club, please line up outside my house and I will be along shortly to bite you in the neck.

After hearing what Gordhan had to say on Wednesday, Brenda began expressing doubts about my fiscal acumen. She said I appeared to understand money about as well as Rick Santorum understands evolution.

She said we needed to increase our asset base. I suggested we buy the two South African hostages that are being held in Somalia. They are no longer in the hands of pirates, having been sold three times, and are currently residing with a charming family of Muslim traders somewhere in the picturesque Gulf of Aden.

I reckon we could get them for a fair price,” I said, licking the tip of my pencil. “Let’s put in a cheeky offer.” Brenda wanted to know where we would put them. “We have a perfectly good downstairs room,” I said. She pointed out that it was occupied by Sudan Red, our live-in gardener who refuses to leave on the spurious grounds that the friendly locals of nearby Masiphumelele would set him on fire in accordance with the old African tradition of ubuntu.

Our household finances make Greece look like Switzerland. We steal from one another’s wallets, rack up hideous debts and live permanently in overdraft. We borrow from anybody who will lend us money and leave the keys in the ignition so the sheriff can repossess our cars without ringing the doorbell.

Everything we own is on hire purchase and bounty hunters from four major chain stores are looking for us. In other words, we’re no different from anyone else.

So when Brenda heard Comrade Pravin spouting his dangerous agitprop and willfully firing off incendiary phrases like “activate the levers of economic change”, she decided an intervention was necessary.

It turns out that she is not involved in this nasty business with wallets, overdrafts, debts and blacklists. Apparently it’s just me. Whatever happened to “for better or worse”?

It’s easy for Pravin bloody Gordhan, isn’t it. He doesn’t have an angry wife shouting at him to grow up. It’s also a hell of a lot easier to draw up a budget when you have one trillion rand to play with. A million here, a billion there. Piece of cake. Take away ten zeros and then try it.

Gordhan emphasised the need for haircuts so I went into the bathroom and gave myself one. Brenda almost had a stroke. She said I looked like Nick Nolte after Stevie Wonder had cut his hair and pointed out in no uncertain terms that the finance minister was talking metaphorically. Personally, I thought he was talking shit.

Brenda seems to think that if I imitate Gordhan’s budget and focus more on investment, I will somehow become Richard Branson. On the other hand, she might just be hoping that I’ll become a responsible adult. Even odds either way.

Right, then. I’ll build a microbrewery and an airport at the bottom of the garden. It won’t be much of a landing strip, but certainly enough for aircraft with vertical take-off capabilities. I can export my beer using Harrier jump jets.

Brenda said I was being silly, but that’s only because women don’t understand words like “infrastructure”. It’s not their fault. I blame the mothers. Too much talk about birth control and not enough about infrastructure.

I think you’re forgetting something,” Brenda said archly. “Sin tax.” I was outraged. If there is one thing I pride myself on, it’s getting my syntax right. She began gutting the liquor cupboard. It was worse than a raid by one of Helen Zille’s jackbooted, fun-hating thugs.

She seemed to think an alcohol tax would free up more money for luxuries. Like food. I disagreed. Strongly. Vociferously. Vehemently. She told me to get off the ground and stop crying. So, a 20% tax on beer. On top of Gordhan’s 10%. Brutal.

Unlike the members of our legislature, I am not a big whiskey drinker. An ominous rumble of discontent swept through parliament when Gordhan announced that spirits would cost R6 a bottle more. I thought this might be our Bastille moment, but then the MPs sank back into their seats, exhausted. Since they are such good Christians, perhaps we should also tax them on proper sins like gluttony, greed and sloth.

As part of our austerity measures, I informed Brenda that I would be conducting spot checks on her wardrobe with a view to confiscating any luxury items.

She bought me off with an offer of a disability grant. “But I’m not disabled,” I said. She gave me the lazy eye. “You will be if you don’t stay out of my cupboards.”

Wrapping up my budget, I set aside R500-million for job creation. Then I created a job for myself (irrigation specialist). After watering the garden I emailed Brenda an invoice.

I could buy myself a president with half a billion rand.

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