Friday, December 19, 2008

2008 - History in the making

2008 has been a turning point in the country’s politics.

A president was forced out of office before his term was up, the ruling ANC was rocked by the formation of a breakaway party and Zimbabweans finally signed a unity deal — but then reneged on it!

The year 2008 will go down in history as having been one of post-apartheid South Africa’s most eventful.

When the year began, few would have thought that 2008 would have more drama than what we witnessed last year during the run-up to the ANC national conference.

But barely two weeks into 2008, we already had disgraced national police commissioner Jackie Selebi suspended, and the National Prosecuting Authority announcing that he would face criminal charges relating to his alleged links with a drug- dealing crime syndicate.

Then President Thabo Mbeki, who suspended Selebi, found himself in hot water for failing to attend an ANC birthday celebration in Pretoria on the same day.

The ANC, which had elected Mbeki’s rival, Jacob Zuma, as its new president, saw Mbeki’s absence from the rally as a snub. This was the beginning of trouble between Luthuli House and the Union Buildings.

But by the end of January, Zuma and Mbeki seemed to be smoking a peace pipe — with Mbeki even attending an ANC and government lekgotla in which the government’s programme for the year was spelt out.

By the time Mbeki made his state of the nation address in parliament in February, Luthuli House and the Union Buildings appeared to be speaking with one voice.

This was not to last, though.

Calls for Mbeki to step down were gaining support among the ANC’s alliance partners — the SACP and Cosatu.

A number of the ANC’s national executive committee members supported this view, though they were eventually defeated in meetings.

ANC provincial structures also began calling for the heads of provincial premiers aligned to Mbeki.

The electricity blackout saga, government’s incompetent handling of xenophobic attacks as well as Mbeki’s claim that there was “no crisis” in Zimbabwe fuelled calls for him to step down.

Meanwhile, Zuma’s legal battles with the NPA continued, with the two parties fighting it out in the high court, the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court. The battle even played itself out in the Mauritian courts.

Back home, the fight over Zuma’s future reached its lowest point when Constitutional Court judges publicly claimed that controversial Cape Division Judge President John Hlophe had tried to influence some of them to rule in the ANC president’s favour — the court was deliberating on the validity of search and seizure warrants related to the case of corruption against Zuma.

It became open season on the judiciary, with ANC leaders such as Gwede Mantashe accusing some judges of being “counter- revolutionary”.

The year also saw the emergence of the feisty Julius Malema .

Malema was elected ANC Youth League president at a chaotic conference that will mainly be remembered for a drunken delegate who exposed his buttocks in front of news cameras.

The youth leader would then cause controversy when, at a June 16 rally, he declared that his organisation “will kill” for Zuma.

In Zimbabwe, the MDC had emerged as the largest parliamentary party after the March 27 elections.

But MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai failed to win the 50percent plus one vote he needed to be declared president. Tsvangirai withdrew from the planned re-run because of state-sponsored violence .

Despite universal condemnation, Mugabe declared himself president.

But lacking legitimacy, he returned to the negotiating table with Tsvangirai, with Mbeki as the facilitator.

By this time, Zimbabwe was just about the only thing that was working out for Mbeki as Mugabe and Tsvangirai moved closer to signing a deal.

But then in September, Judge Chris Nicholson’s ruling on whether the NPA had followed proper procedures in charging Zuma was handed down.

It was scathing of Mbeki, effectively accusing him of using the state against Zuma.

Not even the Zimbabwean breakthrough could save Mbeki, who was ousted from office a week after the ruling.

ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe took over.

As it later turned out, the Zimbabwean deal amounted to very little anyway as Mugabe and Tsvangirai still can’t form a government.

Mbeki’s axing resulted in a series of cabinet resignations and, more importantly, the formation of the breakaway party, the Congress of the People.

In that way, 2008 changed the face of South African politics.

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