The Roman emperor Nero is said to have come to power through the killing of his great-uncle Claudius Caeser, who had adopted him. Agrippa the Younger, Nero’s mother, not only played an influential role in the killing but also subsequently in her son’s reign. So influential was his mother that Nero was forced to have her murdered five years later.

Nero had the reputation of being extravagant. It was he who spent more time in diplomacy, entertaining and culture; making sure to build theatres and stadia in which athletic games could take place. Nero’s public displays as a poet, musician, actor and charioteer were all funded by taxes. The attention was on the finer things in life and so it was almost natural that Nero was to fiddle while Rome was burning. 

One could easily replace the name of Nero with that of former president Jacob Zuma. Since his days as a MEC in KwaZulu-Natal, people knew, at least the Shaiks did, that Zuma was extravagant. Yet his demise could be likened to that of Claudius, replaced by the one who he had adopted and then who turned on him, and it being his successor, president Cyril Ramaphosa, who too has a taste for the finer things in life. We only have to think of buffaloes.

Yet more importantly, it seems that hitherto, President Ramaphosa’s agenda, since his election since December last year, has simply been set by figures, such as Agrippa, who assisted in bringing him to power and who today wield undue influence on the ANC. These figures, it could be argued, are the CR17 faction and the media.

The overemphasises on emperor Ramaphosa’s jogging habits and his socks while receiving a ‘thunderous’ applause at the State of the Nation Address, according to Naspers’ Media24, indicates this obsession with extravagance rather than what really matters. What really matters is the unity of the ANC.

For the first time since Stellenbosch in 2002, the ANC in 2017 did not face a potential split. After Jacob Zuma’s recall, it suddenly does. 

In 2008, the Congress of the People was formed, after the Zunami faction ran roughshod through the ANC in the wake of their triumphalism; the recalls of Nosimo Balindela, Ebrahim Rassool and Thabo Mbeki being but three explicit examples. 

In 2012, the ANC was staring another split in the face in the wake of the disciplinary action against the former president of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, and his colleagues. Gwede Mantashe’s refusal to have Malema’s appeal letter read out and dealt with at the Mangaung Conference eventually led to the establishment of the Economic Freedom Fighters. 

Yet ironically, Emperor Ramaphosa or at least his faction should be reminded that never before did an election result in the ANC, as the ones at Nasrec, display just how deeply division runs in the ANC. Even at Polokwane, a harrowing moment for the ANC, Zuma was able to beat Thabo Mbeki 60-40 percent. Kgalema Motlanthe stood no chance against Zuma at Mangaung while Ramaphosa won Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma by a narrow margin. The difference in votes in the Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma race was a mere 179 votes; less than five percent of voting delegates. It is almost a fifty-fifty split.

President Ramaphosa’s failure to convince his faction, seemly led by Paul Mashatile as the most ardent of hardliners, to allow Zuma to stay in power for three more months should indicate to us, and him, his desperate need to get rid of Agrippa. While they might have argued that it was in South Africa’s best interest to get rid of Jacob Zuma, President Ramaphosa must realise that it was not in the ANC’s interest to do so.

While Zuma was at pains to explain in that infamous SABC interview, the day of his resignation, that he suggested to President Ramaphosa to work together and display unity, history once again repeated itself uninterrupted when visibly the signs of triumphalism continued to ride roughshod through the ranks of the ANC destroying any prospects of maintaining the unity to build the national democratic society.

Not since 2004 does the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, face such a strong crisis as it does at the moment. Its “corruption free”, “clean government” election strategy is falling apart as corruption exposés occur in the DA showcase cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg. Instead of working with opposition parties and fighting the ANC in Nelson Mandela Bay, the DA has turned to fighting its partners in that metropole. Today, Cape Town is run by a de facto ANC mayor, in the person of Patricia de Lille, after the DA was incapable of controlling its caucus. At the very heart of the DA’s stronghold governs a mayor the DA doesn’t want. There is chaos in the DA.

Yet the ANC is unable to capitalise on this. It looks inward, burns and Ramaphosa, and his faction, fiddles. 

Instead of uniting and building the ANC, Ramaphosa believes, for example, that the cabinet should be reduced and opponents be eliminated in the process. In fact, herein lies the evidence that the agenda set by President Ramaphosa is not necessarily being set by the ANC but by the liberal chattering classes whom have been the loudest in the recall of Jacob Zuma. 

Delivering the Dullah Omar Memorial Lecture in 2012, former President Thabo Mbeki recalled the sentiments of the anti-Apartheid advocate, at the dawn of democracy, when he cautioned against the “right-sizing” of government. Noting that these discussions were happening in an era of the hegemony of neoliberalism, Mbeki recalled how Omar insisted that when the ANC tried “to avoid creating a bloated and expensive public administration, [they] should take care not to fall into the dangerous trap of weakening and therefore disempowering the democratic state,” in favour of the market. We certainly hope that ‘Ramaphosanomics’ does not entail a small state with an unfettered market.

It is said that some Romans were not surprised that Nero fiddled during the great fire of Rome. For it was he, they said, who started it after all. It is he who wanted to destroy Rome.

While we support and defend President Ramaphosa and pledge to work with him to make the ANC win, we must be bold enough to declare that he is naked, the ANC is divided and burning. We will not repeat the mistakes of the ANC of the last two decades of submitting to a president who is extravagant in politics to the detriment of the ANC. 

The emperor must get rid of those who had a hand in his rise to power; his faction and the media. For it will serve him well to remember that Zuma was never the real target. As during the days of Apartheid, the real target of the liberals will always be the ANC.

Wesley Seale is currently completing his PhD at Beijing University in China

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