2017: News24's year in review
Johannesburg - As President Jacob Zuma described it on the last day of the year, 2017 has certainly has been "eventful" for South Africans.
News24 takes stock of the year that was:
In March, the shock axing of Pravin Gordhan as finance minister, along with his deputy Mcebisi Jonas by President Jacob Zuma saw the rand plummet.
Gordhan was first recalled, along with his senior leadership, during an overseas investor trip.
Gordhan had been outspoken about corruption in state structures, while Jonas was vocal about an attempt by the Gupta family to bribe him.
Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, then replaced Gordhan in what had become a carousel of finance ministers in recent times.
In December 2015, Zuma sacked two finance ministers in one week: first the well-respected Nhlanhla Nene was ousted and replaced by ANC back bencher Des Van Rooyen. However, at the time, following corporate pressure, Van Rooyen was replaced within a week by Gordhan.
Ahmed Kathrada dies
As the legacy of struggle icon Ahmed Kathrada was honoured following his death at the end of March 2017, memorials for him also became political platforms for stalwarts to call on change in the ANC leadership – particularly in light of the cabinet reshuffle at the time.
Zuma’s 'Annus horribilis'
President Jacob Zuma was at the centre of critical public sentiment, legal woes and political machinations throughout the year.
–– Zuma versus the Public
With the hashtag #ZumaMustFall commonly trending on social media, sectors of society were vocal in their virulent criticism of the country’s Number One.
One of the culminating events of this was a set of nationwide protests held in April that saw masses of people take to the streets in various cities.
–– Zuma versus Parliament
In August, Zuma survived another motion of no confidence in his presidency, held via secret ballot in Parliament.
Following a two-hour debate and lengthy voting process, 198 MPs voted against the Democratic Alliance's bid to remove Zuma, while 177 voted for. Although the motion was lost, it did expose clear tensions in the ruling party as about 30 ANC MP’s were estimated to have voted for their party leader to be removed as the country’s president.
–– Zuma versus the Judiciary
In the latter part of the year, Zuma’s fate in a number of legal cases was revealed.
In October, the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed Zuma and the NPA's application to appeal a High Court ruling that the 2009 decision to drop corruption charges against him was irrational. Zuma faces 783 counts of corruption, fraud, money-laundering and racketeering related to his alleged involvement in the country’s multi-billion rand arms deal.
Then, in December, the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, rejected Zuma’s application to review and set aside Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's recommended remedial action in her State of Capture report.
In a separate matter, the same court ruled that the current National Director of Public Prosecutions, Advocate Shaun Abrahams had to vacate his seat as due to his pending corruption case, Zuma was conflicted in having appointed an NDPP.
Furthermore, in another case, the court also ruled that Zuma should institute an inquiry into the conduct of deputy NPA head Nomgcobo Jiba and her colleague Lawrence Mrwebi. This after Zuma had previously decided not to suspend her or to institute a commission of inquiry into her conduct, despite controversy over her handling of various sensitive cases.
Zuma has embarked on appeals, or indicated his intention to do so, with regards to each of these rulings.
Yet, just when it seemed things could not get any worse for the president, in the dying days of 2017, the Constitutional Court delivered a ruling that found that the National Assembly failed to hold Zuma to account for his failure to uphold the Constitution in the Nkandla matter.
A majority ruling stipulated that Parliament had failed to make rules surrounding the removal of the president, and had to attend to this and hold the president to account "without delay".
The ANC’s 54th National Elective Conference saw the country's Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa win the party’s top spot in a hotly contested battle against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
His election was the culmination of two factions in the ruling party vying for positions of power. In fact the conference opened with its credentials process complicated by various court rulings related to branch nominations and provincial executive committees.
In his final opening address, which lasted almost three hours, outgoing party president Zuma took pot shots at everyone from the alliance partners and ANC Veteran's League to the media, private sector and civil society, blaming them for a variety of problems in the party. Commenting that he had tried his "best".
Zuma received a standing ovation.
The top six, as well as the rest of the NEC, were made up of a mixture of those believed to be on both sides of the ruling party’s split. The party’s new deputy president is now David Mabuza, its national chairperson Gwede Mantashe. Jessie Duarte’s retains power as deputy secretary general, while Paul Mashatile was one of the new additions when he was elected as treasurer general.
The appointment of Free State ANC chair Ace Magashule as Secretary General has spurred ongoing controversy, however. He won the position with just 24 more votes than former Kwazulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu. However, while the total number of voting delegates attending conference is 4776, only 4708 voted for this position. The ANC’s steering committee has subsequently started a probe into the matter.
In the midst of the ANC’s 54th national elective conference in mid-December - Zuma announced that government would subsidise free higher education for poor and working class students.
The move effectively meant that Zuma has overruled the recommendations of the Heher Commission into the feasibility of fee-free higher education and training which had previously found that there is currently no capacity for the state to provide free tertiary education to all students.
The move was hailed as bold by some, and as just politicking by others.
National Treasury appeared to have been caught somewhat by surprise by Zuma’s offer – releasing a short statement saying that it "notes the announcement" and was reviewing funding proposals.
GuptaLeaks and State Capture
The newest addition to every South African’s vocabulary was the term 'State Capture' as details of the enmeshment of business and political wheelings and dealings were exposed when a trove of emails linked to the Gupta family were leaked to various media outlets.
Government officials, State Owned Enterprises, private individuals and corporates were amongst the groups implicated in the electronic communications and left scrambling to explain their connections.
The issue of State Capture also spun out with the rise of a group calling itself Black First Land First. The group were involved in acts of media intimidation, interrupting certain events and even staking out the private home of Tiso BlackStar Group editor-at-large Peter Bruce – claiming 'white monopoly capital' – another popular catchphrase in 2017 – were behind negative reporting of the Gupta family.
South Africans were also riveted by investigative journalist, Jacques Pauw’s book on the subject, The President’s Keepers . The expose broke best seller records and also saw Pauw facing various legal challenges in connection to information contained in his work.
"The greatest cause of human rights violation since the dawn of our democracy," was how advocate Dirk Groenewald’s characterised the Life Esidemni tragedy in his opening statement at the alternative dispute resolution hearings in Parktown, Johannesburg.
Chaired by former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, the hearing exposed the horrors that mental health patients faced when in September 2015, the Gauteng Health Department terminated a contract with Life Esidimeni and instead crammed the patients into various illegal and ill-equipped facilities – allegedly as a cost-cutting exercise.
At the close of 2017, the current tally of those who had died after this move stood at 143 – with dozens of others still missing.
Their friends and family, who attended the hearings, frequently broke down emotionally, as they heard of the neglect and starvation their loved ones had faced.
Former Health MEC Qedani Lamhlangu became notorious in her absence from the hearings and she was later suspended from a United Kingdom university where she was studying, for her role in the tragedy. She has since indicated that she will appear at the hearings when they resume in January.
Sassa Scandal and Constitutional Court
The Constitutional Court had to step in as mayhem hit the SA Social Security Agency’s plans for payment of social grants.
The agency missed an April deadline to find a new payment provider – after the Constitutional Court had ruled, in 2014, that its contract with Cash Paymaster Services was illegal and invalid. The court then had to suspend the order of invalidty over CPS’s contract – until a suitable replacedment was found, with Chief Justice Mogoeng Moegoeng asking how the "absolute incompetence" of Sassa and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini had come about.
Dlamini was even called to account before court as to why she should not be held personally labile for the cost of legal proceedings.
A new hybrid payment system which involves the SA Post Office and some commercial banks is now set to roll out in the new year in April.
The eruptions in the small town of Coligny in the North West, following death of 16-year-old Matlhomola Moshoeu, after he was alleged to have stolen sunflowers, exposed deep racial faultlines that still ferment in the underbelly of the democratic South African project.
Pieter Doorewaard, 26, and Philip Schutte, 34, are set to go on trial in March next year for the teenager’s death. They claim they were driving him to the local police station when he allegedly jumped off their bakkie and broke his neck. However, an eyewitness alleges he was pushed off.
Some residents claim he was killed because he was black. His death, which took place in April, sparked protests in the area, which saw a number of houses and business burnt to the ground.
Capers involving former acting national police commissioner Lieutenant General Khomotso Phahlane as well as former Hawks boss Berning Ntlemeza, at times seem to threaten to slip into the absurd.
After a High Court ruling in March found Ntlemeza's appointment was unlawful and invalid – suggesting he lacked integrity and honesty, the Hawks head appeared to go somewhat rogue. In April, despite having been fired, he still pitched up for work, and held onto a state vehicle and cellphone – which he did later return.
At one point, Ntlemeza's daughter, Anele, also entered the fray, allegedly threatening to kill a police officer who was a complainant in a case against her father, sending private investigator Paul O'Sullivan a text message, and allegedly saying in a phone call that "they didn't give a fuck" about Police Minister Fikile Mbalula.
Mbalula spoke out fiercely against Ntlemeza declaring: “you must know, I am coming for you”.
At the time, Mbalula lambasted acting police boss Kgomotso Phahlane, saying that he should stop acting "buddy buddy" with Ntlemeza.
Eventually in September, Ntlemeza announced his retirement after a court bid to get his job back failed.
Lieutenant General Yolisa Matakata was then appointed as the acting Hawks head.
Phahlane – appointed acting national police commissioner in October 2015 following Riah Phiyega’s suspension – also found himself submerged in scandals.
Allegations emerged that he was interfering in IPID investigations into claims of corruption and money laundering.
Phahlane maintained his innocence, saying police were merely conducting their own investigations and claimed that O’Sullivan had "captured" the police watchdog.
Eventually, Phahlane announced in June that he agreed to “step aside” from his position after "constructive engagement" with Police Minister Fikile Mbalula.
While a permanent Hawks head has yet to be appointed, in November Lieutenant-General Khehla Sitole, a career cop, was appointed the national police commissioner. At the time, he assured the City Press newspaper, "I have no skeletons in my closet".
Crimes against Women and Children
South Africans expressed outrage as the murder and abuse of women and children appeared to carry on unabated.
–– Reeva Steenkamp
In November, former Paralympian and self-proclaimed gun enthusiast Oscar Pistorius had his six year prison sentence for the 2013 killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, extended to 13 years, by the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein.
–– Noluthando Mahlaba, Monoisa Duma and Thina Mopipa
In August, then deputy minster of higher education and training Mduduzi Manana was involved in the assault of Mahlaba, Duma and Mopipa at a Cubana venue in Fourways – apparently after he was offended for being called "isitabane", a word used derogatorily to refer to gay people.
He was taken to court, with another co-accused. Manana later pleaded guilty and was fined and given community service.
During proceedings, the Randburg Magistrate’s Court heard that Manana’s mother was ashamed and embarrassed at her son’s behaviour.
–– Susan Rohde
In July, mother of three daughters, Susan Rodhe was found dead, her body hanging behind the door of a bathroom at a suite at Spier wine estate. Her property mogul husband, Jason Rodhe was subsequently arrested. While he has pleaded not guilty saying Susan killed herself over an affair which he was having, the State insists she was strangled and smothered and her husband then staged the scene to look like suicide. The trial will continue in 2018.
–– Thembisile Yende
In May 2017, Eskom employee and mother of one, Thembisile Yende went missing. Soon after, her body was found in an office at the isolated Eskom Pietersboth substation in Springs, Ekurhuleni.
Her lover, David Ngwenya, who was a technician at Eskom is alleged to have injected her with a substance before striking her on the head with a crowbar and subsequently suffocating and strangling her after a struggle.
His motive was allegedly that he was afraid she would reveal claimed involvement in a copper cable theft syndicate.
He is due back in court in January next year.
–– Karabo Mokoena
In April, the charred remains of twenty-two-year old Karabo Mokoena, in a veld in Lyndhurst, Johannesburg.
Shortly afterwards her ex-lover, Sandile Mantsoe, 27, a forex trader and married father-of-three was arrested and charged with premeditated murder – as well as in connection with a previous alleged incident of assault.
He is due back in court in March next year.
–– Jennifer Ferguson and the others who remain nameless
In November, following world-wide exposes of abuse, former ANC MP Jennifer Ferguson came out with claims that SAFA boss Danny Jordaan had raped her in a Port Elizabeth hotel 24 years ago. Other anonymous allegations followed. Jordaan has denied all the accusations.
–– Schoolchildren victims of sexual abuse
A series of sexual abuse and rape claims at schools in Gauteng, rocked the public.
In November, it emerged earlier this month that a pensioner, who lives near a primary school in Diepsloot, had allegedly sexually assaulted a number of pupils.
In October, a security guard was arrested and charged with three counts of rape and five counts of sexual assault after he was accused of allegedly sexually assaulting at least 87 school girls at a primary school in Soweto, Johannesburg.
In the same month, it emerged that a security guard at a high school in Mamelodi had allegedly raped a student at her matric dance in September.
Earlier in the year, a 22-year-old former Parktown Boys High School assistant sports coach was charged with sexually grooming more than 20 pupils aged between 15 and 16, sexual assault, and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm. His trial will take place in 2018.
Gangsterism in Cape Town
Battles between factions in Cape Town’s underworld continued to hold certain communities in the grips of fear.
A number of shootings took place, allegedly between prominent underworld figures and rivals from the 26s, 27s and 28s gangs – who continue to fight over control of the security at the city’s nightspots.
Ahmed Timol Inquest
A painful closure was brought to the family of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol when an inquest, 46 years after his death, found that he had indeed been murdered and had not committed sucide as police had claimed at the time when he fell from the 10th floor of the police building in Johannesburg in 1971.
In October, Judge Billy Mothle made the ruling in the North Gauteng High Court to the applause of those in the courtroom.
Following the inquest, the National Prosecuting Authority, confirmed it would open dockets against the former security policemen, who had been involved in Timol’s death.
Helen Zille and the colonialism tweet
In March, former DA leader and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille found herself in hot water with her party after she sent out a series of tweets including one which said:
"For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc."
She later apologised.
Stellenbosch- based retail giant Steinhoff's share price dropped over 90 percent in December, after its CEO Markus Jooste abruptly resigned and it announced that auditors were investigating “accounting irregularities requiring further investigation” in its books.
Steinhoff is now facing at least seven different probes in Europe and South Africa, as well as a number of possible investor lawsuits.
Grace (Mugabe) under fire
In August, then First Lady of Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe, caused a storm of sensation and shock when she managed to escape assault charges brought against her by a model.
The 20-year-old claimed Mugabe attacked her with an extension cord at a Sandton Hotel where Mugabe’s sons were also staying. Before the case could proceed further, Mugabe was then swooped out of South Africa after being granted diplomatic immunity.
In November, Grace and her husband, Robert Mugabe, were ousted from their top positions in Zimbabwe during a 'soft' coup by military officials.
In June, seven people died and at least 1000 homes were destroyed in fires that ripped through Knysa and Plettenberg Bay. Almost 10 000 people were evacuated amidst the largest blaze in modern memory.
In August, Knysna chief fire services officer Colin Manuel said the probable cause for the fire was the humble pine cone, often used as kindling.
Cape Town Drought
Cape Town was hit with a severe drought that saw stringent restrictions implemented and threats made of a 'day zero' when almost all of the taps in the city would be turned off and residents would have to queue for water at approximately 200 sites across the peninsula.
Concerns were raised as to how it would affect tourism in the popular destination and controversy arising over proposals for a 'drought levy'.