Ramaphosa can and must act against corruption

John Kane-Berman says the new President is in a powerful position to do so

Jacob Zuma's defenestration, it is to be hoped, will put paid to the bad idea that the president of the country should be elected by popular vote rather than by the National Assembly. Had he been so elected, he would have been able to argue that the assembly had no business removing him other than by impeachment. In the end, of course, it was the fear of ignominious overthrow by a combination of his own and other parties that caused him to resign on the eve of the proposed motion of no-confidence.

In a way, it is a pity that Mr Zuma was not voted out by the assembly because that would have meant that his whole Cabinet and all his deputy ministers would have gone with him. Since so many of them have all along been his active partners in skulduggery, it would have been gratifying to see them get the chop.

One of those who made it clear last week that the African National Congress (ANC) was ready to vote with opposition parties against Mr Zuma was the finance minister, Malusi Gigaba. Since Mr Gigaba was one of Mr Zuma's chief instruments of state capture when he was minister of public enterprises between 2010 and 2014, this no doubt prompted Mr Zuma to mutter "Et tu, Brute?" as Mr Gigaba thrust in the knife.

Strange things, parliaments. When the British prime minister Neville Chamberlain announced that he was flying to Munich for his meeting with Adolf Hitler at the end of September 1938, the House of Commons exploded with delight at this third attempt at appeasement. Eleven months later, the same House of Commons "mutinied" – Chamberlain's own word – when he dithered over declaring war on Germany after that country had invaded Poland. Had he not done so, his government would have fallen.

Even though our own National Assembly has recently started taking its watchdog role more seriously than hitherto, Mr Zuma's resignation has deprived it of its chance publicly to redeem itself after having so frequently condoned his behaviour. Last week's joint statement by opposition parties that the assembly had taken decisions harming the country is correct. They should nevertheless abandon their plans to put forward a motion for the dissolution of Parliament in terms of section 50 of the Constitution so that an election for a fresh "mandate" can be obtained.

An election now would be a waste of time and money. The country has been on hold for nearly eight weeks while Mr Zuma clung to office. An election is due around the middle of next year anyway. In the meantime, Mr Ramaphosa must be allowed to get on with the job. He has promised all sorts of contradictory things, veering between pragmatism and a focus on growth on the one hand and revolutionary talk on the other. We do not know what he really believes.

But he has committed himself to rooting out corruption. There is no more urgent task. And despite what opposition parties say, he does not need a mandate to do it. Nor does Parliament or the ANC. That the ANC ejected Mr Zuma shows that it finally realised that continuing to defend him would be costly come the next election.

South Africa under Mr Zuma was sliding inexorably towards state failure, a key cause of the slide being corruption and incompetence in organs of state. This means that Mr Ramaphosa faces enormous challenges, but it also means that he is in a powerful position to act. Civil servants who give him uphill will find little public support if he cracks the whip.

The same applies to rotten cops and prosecutors. He can be pretty sure that all the pro-Zuma political factions that have not already joined the winning side will soon do so. Even though he is for the moment stuck with Mr Zuma's Cabinet, there are no members thereof he cannot axe. If any of them assume otherwise, they need only to ponder the fate of their ex boss.

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom.