Generally awful year

2016-12-20 06:01

PEOPLE do not agree on much but there appears to be some agreement that 2016 has generally been awful.

With terror attacks, natural disasters, the Zika outbreak, the rise of the right wing in Europe, the Brexit vote, plane crashes, escalating conflict in Syria, a coup attempt in Turkey, world leaders toppling like skittles and the election of Donald Trump as the United States’s president, among other things, the news cycle this year was wholly depressing.

In South Africa, we had our own share of problems. The drought has been devastating, university fee protests were violent with no tangible settlement, revelations of corruption have exposed the rot infesting our government and our economy continues to perform badly. The inter-governmental wars and attempts to charge Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan showed a nefarious agenda at play in the state. This agenda continues to compromise vital institutions.

And with each passing day, it becomes more apparent how the Gupta family used their proximity to President Jacob Zuma to control the state for their financial benefit. As a result, Atul Gupta has become the richest black person in SA, while black empowerment and the process of transforming the economy is moving backwards. It is infuriating and depressing to know that the family enrich themselves by exploiting their political connections with no repercussions.

This week, a parliamentary inquiry into the SABC has revealed how Hlaudi Motsoeneng made a mockery of the Broadcasting Act, the rules of governance and the editorial integrity of the public broadcaster. Journalists told the inquiry how they were instructed to project the president in a favourable light while footage of the opposition was banned or edited out of stories.

The testimonies of the SABC board chairperson, Mbulaheni Maguvhe, and Communications Minister Faith Muthambi showed shocking levels of ineptitude and complete refusal to accept responsibility for the shambles in the organisation. All of this can leave one feeling despondent about the state of the country and the world.

Last week, I interviewed the outgoing United States ambassador Patrick Gaspard, who has completed his three-year term in South Africa. I remarked that this has not been the best time to showcase our country with a series of scandals and so much political commotion. But Gaspard said he is impressed by what he has witnessed in our country. He said it is a sign of political maturity that the Constitutional Court ruling on Nkandla, which found that the president had violated the Constitution in his handling of the public protector’s report, was accepted and respected by the ANC, the presidency and civil society.

“Democracy was put to the test and South Africa came out proving it is the most resilient place on the planet,” he said.

Gaspard said he is also inspired by the “rebirth of civil-society activism”.

That made me realise that while a lot has gone wrong in our country, there is also much to be grateful for.

After a messy, highly charged election campaign, the local-government poll proceeded peacefully. The political sands shifted and South Africa handled the change maturely.

We managed to evade a ratings downgrade that would have relegated South Africa to junk status.

The courts continue to serve as a safeguard against the abuse of power.

Our athletes did us proud at the Rio Olympics.

People in the ANC, including struggle veterans, are finally speaking out against Zuma’s leadership failures and his improper relationship with the Guptas.

There was a fight back from civil society on issues such as the abuse of state institutions, the attempts to charge Gordhan and the manipulation of the SABC. Motsoeneng has finally been unseated from his ivory tower at the public broadcaster and the SABC inquiry is demonstrating how Parliament should function.

Yes, 2016 was harrowing but it is time to dust ourselves off and perhaps, in a non-Trump way, make South Africa great again.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick.

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