Adriaan Basson

2016: the year the people took charge

2016-12-30 07:01

It’s very fashionable now to call 2016 all kinds of nasty names. And yes, I agree that #2016mustfall.

It was an exhausting year.

It started all wrong when Chris (Hart) and Penny (Sparrow) took to Twitter and Facebook and dominated the news agenda for weeks. It ended with ANC Youth League president Collen “Oros” Maine calling on the rand to fall and President Jacob Zuma blaming “white monopoly capital” for all his woes.

A clever academic told an off-the-record gathering I attended earlier this year that South Africa’s two biggest ills remained corruption and racism. When the corrupt are called out for their misdeeds, they blame the untransformed racists. When the racists are called out, they say “but what about the corruption?”

Too simplistic an analysis, but true for a lot of 2016’s most heated debates.

In-between the racists and the corrupt we had Trump, Nkandla, Aleppo, #FeesMustFall, Brexit, Hlaudi and that big sporting scandal, Mintgate.

2016 took away heroes and legends: Muhammad Ali, Mandoza, Prince, Sfiso Ncwane, Leonard Cohen, Gugu Zulu and Allister Sparks all left the world a better place.

But apart from the scandals and the tears, I will remember 2016 as the year South Africans took charge of our country and shared destiny.

I saw this in the historic August 3 local government election when the DA and EFF, both led by two young black leaders, managed to topple the ANC in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay. The defeat of the ANC in South Africa’s two biggest metros will be recorded as a turning point when the history of our times is written. Thousands of South Africans came out to vote for the DA and EFF in these cities. Thousands of former ANC voters stayed away from the polls. This is a dire warning to the governing party: get your house in order or risk losing the national election in 2019.

I saw this in the brave and principled way in which the #SABC8 journalists stood up against the erosion of editorial independence at the public broadcaster. Faced with unemployment and personal threats, the journalists stood up for what is right and are leading the way in cleansing the SABC of its sins.

I saw this in the numerous court challenges initiated by the DA, EFF and civil society organisations like Freedom Under Law, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA), Corruption Watch, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre and the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) against abuses of power and the executive’s refusal to uphold the rule of law. These include the Constitutional Court’s judgment on Nkandla; the Supreme Court of Appeal’s judgment on Omar al-Bashir and numerous court rulings against Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

I saw this in ANC veteran Sipho Pityana’s speech at the funeral of former sports minister Makhenkesi Stofile and his subsequent role in leading the Save South Africa movement in their peaceful protests against the Zuma administration’s abuses of power.

I saw this in the way the National Prosecuting Authority had to fall on its sword when it was caught out jumping the gun on the prosecution of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. After initially agreeing to prosecute Gordhan on spurious charges, NPA head Shaun Abrahams told his Hawks counterpart Berning Ntlemeza to back off when evidence was presented that blew the case apart.

I saw this in the way Robert McBride was reinstated to his position as head of the police watchdog Ipid after Police Minister Nathi Nhleko’s best attempts to boot McBride out of his job. McBride refused to go quietly and took his case to the Constitutional Court, where he won.

I saw this in the testimony of Professor Hlonipha Mokoena of Wits and others before the Heher Commission of inquiry into the cost of higher education, who have come up with alternative funding models in an attempt to find solutions to the pertinent questions the #FeesMustFall movement has asked of us.

I saw this in the way the private sector (finally) came to the party and publicly supported Gordhan in his attempts not to be arrested while trying to save the economy. 81 CEOs signed a public pledge in support of Gordhan before he presented his mini-budget and was due to appear in court for fraud charges.

I saw this in the testimony of whistle-blowers like Vytjie Mentor, Themba Maseko and Mcebisi Jonas to former public protector Thuli Madonsela during her investigation into state capture after the ANC had failed to investigate the matter. Her report has provided South Africa with devastating evidence of a president and his family who have been captured financially by the predatory Gupta family.

I saw this in the resignation of Brian Molefe as Eskom CEO after he had been implicated in Madonsela’s report. This was accountability in action; something we had forgotten existed in our public life.

I saw this in the way brave senior ANC politicians like Jackson Mthembu, Derek Hanekom, Aaron Motsoaledi and Thulas Nxesi and numerous party veterans called on Zuma to resign in an attempt to salvage the ANC from self-destruction under a leader who is no longer fit to govern. 2017 will show whether they have succeeded.

On the home front I have been incredibly proud of the breaking news and investigative journalism team News24 brought you during 2016. From our exposés on Prasa’s strange money flows and Bell Pottinger’s “capture” of Mining Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, to our grassroots elections coverage and launch of Project Rise; this has been a hectic but greatly rewarding year for journalism in South Africa.

I still sometimes get asked whether South Africa faces the same fate as Zimbabwe with Zuma and the ANC at the helm. After the good people stood up so loudly and proudly in 2016, I can say with confidence: hell no.

- Basson is News24 editor. Follow him on Twitter: @adriaanbasson.

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