Cyril Ramaphosa lops off another rotten branch
When it came, the firing of Tom Moyane as head of the South African Revenue Service (Sars) this week was as short, sharp and brutal as anything the morose 17th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes could have conjured.
And it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
Slipped into the job after a year of planning and coaching from Bain, the consulting group, Moyane aided and abetted state capture arguably to a greater degree than any single person who was not a direct member of the Gupta or Zuma families.
He will squeal and whine and run to the state capturists' favourite advocate, EFF president Dali Mpofu, but it won't help him. What he did was to single-handedly destroy the state's ability to maximise its collection of taxes.
You have only to cast your mind back to the TV interview and evidence given to Robert Nugent's commission of inquiry into Sars recently by Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane, the Sars IT chief who could not describe her own job.
She would have been appointed by Moyane. The person she replaced, the person driven out of Sars by Moyane and Bain, is a man by the name of Barry Hore, a financial IT genius who was snapped up by Adrian Gore to become CEO of the Discovery Group's new bank. That's how good he is.
So with Moyane out at Sars and Shaun Abrahams out at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), President Cyril Ramaphosa simply now has to find strong and ethical replacements, as he has already done at the Hawks.
He'd like at least one of them to be a woman, and the presidency was complaining the other day that the civil society advisers helping him find a candidate to run the NPA had failed to come up with a woman's name.
That should not be the end of the world. There are plenty of strong women in finance who could run Sars if they were able to attract back some of the talent and experience Moyane lost. Whoever the two people are who get the NPA and Sars jobs, they'll be in for a rough time whatever gender they are. Both agencies have been gutted of good people.
But if you're public-spirited and experienced and ethical, then the state is beginning again to look like it might just be something to give a slice of your life to. There's an unmistakable whiff of promise in the air as Ramaphosa, Tito Mboweni, Pravin Gordhan, Lindiwe Sisulu and Ebrahim Patel begin to return our country to the path of some decency.
They don't have it easy. There is a lot of noise and threat almost every time any one of them acts or speaks. In New York, Mboweni said off the cuff that he thought SAA should be sold, and in piled the unions and the EFF, the latter with the extraordinary view that the loss-making airline might one day be able to replace long-distance buses. "With the levels of road accidents and carnage," it said in a statement criticising Mboweni, "a national airline should be a permanent safe solution to SA's long-distance public transport crisis."
After Moyane was fired, the EFF had a go at Ramaphosa, too, saying the move showed his "confusion and lack of character and leadership".
Cyril the Weak is, however, steaming ahead, staying focused. He has quite a long time to find a new head of the NPA. The courts gave him 90 days to replace Abrahams. But as I understand it, that's 90 courtdays, which gives him all of November still and into the second week of December.
My guess is that he will take all the time he has available to him. It can be excruciating, but his eyes are firmly fixed on the coming elections and he'll do nothing to damage his prospects by being rushed or impulsive.
In his mind, he's got this. And he's increasingly on top intellectually, thanks to the people around him and the woolly thinking from his opponents inside the party (who are still trying to rerun his election last December), and outside it. I loved the casual dismissal the other day by Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago of leftie populist fantasies.
"SA has its share of populists who want to do radical things, but it is increasingly clear the centre will hold. We have strong institutions, and we have the better arguments," the governor said in New York, before reminding the EFF and the dottier fringes of the ANC that "if your development strategy is to return the [resource] wealth of the country to the people then you don't have a development strategy".
Ha ha ha. Geddit?