Shook, shocked and brightened

2008-12-31 00:00

In the spirit of reflecting on the past year and welcoming in a new one, The Witness has compiled a series of news events that shook, shocked and brightened the city.

January

While the year kicked off on a high note for some people such as African National Congress president Jacob Zuma, who married his fourth wife Nompumelelo Ntuli (33), it was spent in darkness by others as load shedding began.

The Dusi Canoe Marathon was almost cancelled due to the high levels of E. coli in the water. But after the race was given the go-ahead, Michael Mbanjwa made Dusi history as the first black canoeist to win the K2 event with his partner Martin Dreyer.

Shawn Pollock announced his retirement from professional cricket on a high and very emotional note.

February

February celebrated tourism and sporting events such as the annual Midmar Mile, the biggest open-water race of the year, as well as the Intakatech Cycle Challenge. People came out in their hundreds to support the international riders who included South African-born Tour de France sprinting champ and Robbie Hunter.

South African cricketers Neil McKenzie and Graeme Smith produced a world record opening stand of 415 runs for South Africa during the second Test match against Bangladesh in Chittagong.

The city mourned the loss of two-year-old Thando Mkhize, who drowned in the Stepping Stones crèche swimming pool, and Michelle Murrison (30), who was brutally stabbed to death while home alone with her 14-month-old baby girl.

Charles Nqakula made the first announcement that the Scorpions would be disbanded. Ironically, this came at the same time that KwaZulu-Natal premier S’bu Ndebele made the statement: “If you keep quiet when you see corruption, you are part of it yourself,” during his State of the Province address.

March

Patrice Motsepe appeared on the cover of Forbes Magazine for joining the circle of the rich and famous only two weeks after a manganese explosion at his Asmang Factory in Cato Ridge killed five workers.

Thirty-one people were killed on KwaZulu-Natal’s roads on March 3, prompting Ndebele to declare that Thursday a “day of mourning”.

“… this is a dark day. This is a day of mourning for all those who were killed, senselessly, in a space of two hours,” he said.

April

More than 200 people from unions, churches and human rights groups across southern Africa protested against allowing the Chinese freighter An Yue Jiang, which was carrying weapons, to dock at Durban harbour. The ship was transporting arms to Zimbabwe, but it was prevented from docking anywhere near South African shores.

There was the birth of Lyanda Zuma whose mother, Beauty, gave birth to her on the back seat of Maria Yeoman’s vehicle only minutes before arriving at the hospital.

Angus Buchan, author of Faith Like Potatoes, organised a Christian gathering in Greytown for men only in the world’s biggest tent which accommodated 40 000 men.

May

On May 1, Eskom announced that there would be no more load shedding. This came after three months of dining by candlelight, hours of darkness, pointing fingers at people who abused their electricity, criticising Eskom for its lack of foresight and pure frustration. But the power came back at a high price and outraged the country that was facing fuel increases and interest rate hikes. A 24,7% electricity price hike gave power back to the consumer.

June

The infamous “Five-minute Gang” was caught after they wreaked havoc in Pietermaritzburg suburbs. The syndicate derailed gates and broke into people’s homes to steal their valuables in a record time of five minutes. They would not have been caught without the community support and the motivated police officers who showed no mercy to the criminals. This came after it was announced that South Africa had the second highest murder rate in the world. In a population of 47,9 million, 31 000 murders took place in the space of a year.

Long-serving traffic officer Desmond Hansen was killed by a speeding taxi driver who failed to stop at an intersection.

But all was not sad in June. The Comrades Marathon proved to be a festive event as runners ran the uphill race from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. One runner was caught with his pants down (literally) and was robbed of his running shoes after he decided to relieve himself in bushes. He continued the race barefoot until the halfway mark when his shoes were recovered and given back to him.

July

Another crèche death occurred in Orient Heights when an unlicensed caregiver, Roshnee Hemraj (44), accidentally reversed her vehicle into nine children, killing one-year-old baby Saiyona Moonsamy who was born after her parents spent 17 years trying to conceive.

Pietermaritzburg announced a decline in crime and motorists braced themselves for an all-time high as petrol topped R10 a litre.

There was debate over who was going to be in the “hot seat” for the long-awaited Jacob Zuma trial that was set to take place at the Pietermaritzburg High Court in August. Judge Chris Nicholson assumed the position and later passed a judgment that changed the course of political history and was possibly a catalyst for the breakaway party, Congress of the People.

The city celebrated with former president Nelson Mandela when he turned 90.

August

Another month of courtroom drama as ANC supporters came out in their hundreds for the Zuma trial. Zuma, who for the past eight years has had 18 charges of fraud and corruption against him for his involvement in the arms deal with French-based arms company Thint, was the topic of conversation at every dinner table in the country. The question on everybody’s lips was “Will Zuma get his day in court?” And then Nicholson postponed the case until September.

Eleven Pietermaritzburg athletes competed at the Beijing Olympic Games in canoeing, swimming, running and BMX events.

Bernard, the cross-collie pup, was rescued by homeless man Thulani Khwela who used his last cents on a phone call to the SPCA for help. Bernard was a victim of a witchcraft ritual during which the poor puppy was buried alive with a dead chicken, clothing, a mirror, candles and two assegais poked through his flesh.

September

More dark acts followed when a Morné Harmse killed a fellow pupil at school with a samurai sword. The boy said that he was possessed by demons.

Police take no prisoners in the fight against crime. Two criminals implicated in taxi violence were shot dead in a shootout on the N3 highway and another two in a robbery in Southgate.

This trend was followed by law-abiding citizens who decided that they were sick of being victims of crime. David Warren (54) was one of the few people who fought and killed intruders in an effort to save himself and his wife in their farm home.

The day of judgment finally came for ANC president Zuma and, to the satisfaction of some and the frustration of others, he was acquitted by Nicholson who said that his ruling was made on a technical decision due to too much “political influence” surrounding the case.

October

On October 26, the Shark’s won the Currie Cup against the Blue Bulls in a 14-9 victory.

This night of celebration ended in tragedy when four people, including two local matric pupils, died in a horror accident on the N3 highway. One of them was the St Charles College headboy, Samukele Khumalo, and the other Girls’ High School (GHS) pupil Nomonde Amanda Hadebe (18). This accident occurred only a week before matric finals were to begin.

Former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota announced a “divorce” from the ANC following former president Thabo Mbeki’s recall and Zuma’s new-found freedom. “The ANC is not its name. It is its policies ... its commitment to the future and to the democracy of this country,” he said. “The current leadership have shown that it is not the ANC,” Lekota said.

Fifteen Mbeki loyalists resigned from cabinet this month.

The city seemed to be falling apart as photographs revealed potholes, broken streetlights, traffic lights and piles of rubbish.

Msunduzi deputy mayor Mervin Dirks’s bodyguards were arrested for kidnapping and extortion, and it seemed that the municipality couldn’t do anything right as it was repeatedly slammed for poor service delivery.

November

Two lions escaped from the lion Park after a freak storm wreaked havoc on the city, flooding homes and leaving hundreds of people destitute. The lionesses were found three days later without any report of threat to human life.

The blue-light sagas continued. While Hlanganani Nxumalo, the man who was charged with shooting at a vehicle while driving a blue-light vehicle, was granted bail, another blue-light convoy caused chaos on the N3 near the Mooi River Toll Plaza. A Johannesburg couple and their son were harassed, threatened and verbally abused by a group of men and a woman travelling in a Gauteng-registered BMW X5.

Mthokozisi Ngubane, the dancing traffic officer, who delighted motorists with his charming way of controlling traffic at busy intersections, was snapped up by advertising company GoodFellows to appear in a once-off Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) advert after The Witness did a profile on the charismatic personality.

December

Two days days before 2008 came to an end the South African cricket team became the first Test team in history to win a Test series in Australia. The team won the second Test match by nine wickets giving them a 2-0 lead in a three-match series.

Transport MEC Bheki Cele tried to stop SA Roadlink bus services from operating in the province, following the latest crash on December 16 when 11 people were killed. This was one of the many tragedies involving the bus company over the past year.

Matric pupils waited anxiously for their exam results. Some were unsure whether they were going to pass and others were concerned about how well they performed. These matric exams were the first for the new outcomes-based education curriculum.

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