We’re passing through one of those unstable phases in public life where words become uncoupled from meaning, sending common sense and reason spinning out of control. This severance was evident during the July riots in some risible liberatory rhetoric from instigators as well as the confused and contradictory mumblings of ministers caught napping. The removal last week of a couple of those ministers exposes one of our most hackneyed political whoppers.

The stock response from anyone in the cabinet under pressure due to incompetence or corruption is: “I serve at the president’s pleasure.” The fact is that for many years, particularly under Cyril Ramaphosa, quite a few in the cabinet have served at the president’s (well-concealed) displeasure, possibly even disgust. It’s also apparent that several are still there not because he trusts them or they have the best skills. No. They serve because warring ANC factions must be bought off with cabinet appointments. It’s insurance agains...

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