The year in headlines: top ten

The year in headlines: top ten South African news stories of 2013

In many ways, this was South Africa’s year: the Beloved Country reached the ‘end of the beginning’ of democracy when Madiba passed, and the world celebrated his life and legacy with us. But Mzansi also made headlines when Oscar shot Reeva, and our own national conversation continues to revolve around the urgent national challenges we face and the search for the next generation of leaders.

The year in headlines: top ten

zuma graca winnieSouth Africans may well remember 2013 as a year that hurt like hell as we lived it – we lost Nelson Mandela, we lost Reeva, Anene and many others to gender violence, we watched Nkandla go up and the Guptas touch down, E-tolling kicked off just before Christmas and the world’s deaf community united in outrage at the Fake Interpreter. But there is a fair chance that, years hence, 2013 will also be seen as a turning point: measuring our current crop of leaders against Nelson Mandela is likely to have forced some hard questions of our nation ahead of next year’s election.

The striking down of two young women – one rich and famous, one poor and unknown – have deepened and bolstered the debate our country needs to have about the way violence is meted out to South African women and girls. E-tolls managed to create a coalition so broad that it briefly aligned Cosatu and the DA against the ANC.

Nkandla- and Gupta-gate also forced a wedge between the senior ANC leadership and the growing share of the public who see it as detached and venal. While it would be a sad thing to see that nation Mandela won for us descend into the sort of democracy where disparate groups can only really rally together in the face of threats to their wellbeing, it must be said that state corruption and the failure of basic services has done more to unite and galvanise south Africans across race and class lines than anything else in 2013. If this year’s top ten stories are uniformly tragic, then, we can also as south Africans take pride in the fact that each one of them has also kickstarted a substantial and broad-ranging debate. It is not ideal that more of our democracy happens in social media, radio shows and newspaper letters pages than in Parliament, but by every measure, the engagement of ordinary South Africans in politics is deepening.

1. Nelson Mandela’s death

Google search ranking: #1 (World)

Tata Madiba’s passing elicited some beautiful tributes and real leadership – mostly from Barack Obama, next to whom Number One looked feeble – the booing in the stadium was an electrifying and very South African moment of dissent. After a funeral watched by billions, the great and the good gathered in the rural Eastern Cape for a sober, moving ceremony. In Qunu, Joyce Banda of Malawi nearly stole the show from our current leadership. But the speech that will linger longest in the minds of those who watched it was Ahmed Kathrada’s moving evocation of the man Madiba was behind the legend.

2. Oscar shoots Reeva

Google Search Ranking: #2 (RSA)

The shooting may go down as one of the great (alleged) crimes passionels – photogenic, -worldfamous, rich – and troubled. Oscar Pistorius’s grave legal situation, and the support he got from south Africans who identify with an abiding crime paranoia as part of daily life, was one story; Reeva’s death, and her life, were sidelined in most reporting.

The South African, however, carried thinkpieces by gender violence experts on SA hero worship and its gender implications.

3. Jacob Zuma and Nkandla: from the fire pool to the fire

Number One and the increasingly Orwellian ‘security Cluster’ of ministers fooled no one with their Nkandla report, which Lindiwe Mazibuko – speaking for many – called ‘insulting to [SA’s] intelligence’. Nkandla has beenthe great bonanza for satirists, cartoonists and journalists this year. Less amusing, perhaps, is the continuing lack of basic services for Zuma’s immediate neighbours, especially those who were moved for the homestead’s enlargement.

4. The Gupta Wedding (‘Guptagate’)

Google Event Search Ranking: #6

As South Africans, we have become hardened to the idea that our leaders are aloof, answering to no one. The nation therefore delighted to see senior leadership bow and scrape to the Guptas, especially when the wedding party breached every security protocol in a state suddenly obsessed by secrecy and access control. (Honourable mention goes to ANN7 for all the laughs).

5. E-tolls

E-tolls, whether we ultimately adjust to them or not, embarassed the ruling party by outraging both organised labour and the middle-class DA constituencies, and everyone from Catholic Bishops to the AA. Perceived as anti-poor, and with all profits destined for the system’s foreign owners, E-tolls were rightly derided as ‘the gantries that stole Christmas’.

6. Rape and murder of Anene Booysen

Google Women Search Ranking: #3

The intensely violent end of Anene Booysen managed to shock the South African public, rich and poor – and that, these days, is saying something. But the shock evolved into rage against gender violence, and that rage – while new outrages keep feeding it – has the potential to change hearts and minds. The memory of Anene Booysen, and the many Anenes whose deaths go unnoticed, must be kept alive as a demand we make of our leaders and of ourselves to stamp out gender violence and rape.

7. Red October

Google Event Ranking: #5

Red October may have been helpful in shaking some white South Africans’ belief that they are anything but the group most sheltered from South Africa’s violent crime epidemic.

8. Rhinos

While we dither on policy and execution, it was another calamitous year for sA’s rhinos, who are, at present, headed for extinction by 2022 ( while the Western Black Rhino is now actually extinct.

9. Pinetown Accident

Google event ranking: #8

South Africans are tired of watching lethal mistakes in infrastructure go unpunished. this was the year in which the public connected the dots between shoddy roads, delayed improvements, tender kickbacks and the resulting fatalities- and started demanding change.

10. Vuyo Mbuli’s death

Google Event Ranking: #10

The death of popular TV presenter Vuyo Mbuli was mourned by many South Africans, before his widow’s accusations of adultery caused a furore.