From the news desk

2019 in a nutshell: The biggest South African news stories

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The VOC newsroom had a busy year in 2019 with both heart-warming and heart-breaking stories making headlines. In South Africa, the news cycle moved at a frenetic pace with breaking news almost on the daily. Politics took an interesting turn post the May national elections, we felt the effects of our struggling economy, Eskom’s shenanigans made us breathe fire (in the dark) and the xenophobic attacks left many of us hanging our heads in shame.  Take a look at our list of the most significant news stories in South Africa this year:

Former president Jacob Zuma, known as the architect of state capture, made several appearances at the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture – also referred to as the Zondo Commission. Zuma’s statements at the Zondo Commission were often explosive in content and rich in bold claims, including mention of things such as assassination, spying and ultimately conspiracy. Recently there has been a chorus of criticism that the administration of President Cyril Ramaphosa has not dealt decisively with corruption and state capture. Despite his assertions he would take a zero-tolerance approach,  only one minister had been arrested so far.

Cape Town beaches were a hot topic early on in 2019, but not for the usual summer-fun reasons. In December 2018 some beachgoers were escorted off Clifton Fourth Beach by private security company Professional Protection Alternatives, which subsequently sparked hot debate on racial and class tension in the province. Many on social media were quick to label the incident as racially motivated and unfairly discriminatory while others seemed to support the actions of the company.  The “Clifton Saga” culminated in a sheep being slaughtered on the beach – a move which evidently intensified the racial, cultural and class tensions at play.

The publishers and authors of a study on the cognitive capacity of so-called coloured women retracted the controversial article which drew widespread condemnation throughout South Africa. It was widely shared that the Stellenbosch University study supposedly scientifically found that so-called coloured women presented with “low cognitive function which is significantly influenced by education“. The study was titled Age- and education-related effects on cognitive functioning in coloured South African women and was sharply criticised and labelled as racist, sexist and generally offensive by the public. News24 reported that the editors and publishers of Aging, Neuropsychology and Cognition issued a statement retracting the article, saying the following:

“While this article was peer-reviewed and accepted according to the journal’s policy, it has subsequently been determined that serious flaws exist in the methodology and reporting of the original study…”

The first troops of the South African National Defence Force were deployed to the Cape Flats in July 2019 after desperate calls were made for the army’s involvement in curbing crime and defending ordinary citizens from criminal elements plaguing the city of Cape Town. Although public and political opinion was somewhat divided on whether the deployment of the SANDF was the right move, most in the worst affected communities seemed to welcome the decision. Since then, however, public opinion has remained divided on whether the deployment of the SANDF has been managed effectively and whether it has had any significant effect on crime and gangsterism.

After the rape and murder of young women like UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana and UWC student Jesse Hess, South African men, women and children exploded with anger and galvanised on the streets of South Africa. For two weeks, there were daily protests highlighting the worsening safety conditions in South Africa and the continued violence against women and children in the country. Ordinary citizens demanded immediate political and social action and this demand was met by President Cyril Ramaphosa who subsequently announced an emergency plan to urgently address gender-based violence in the country.

The controversial Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) school content ignited public outrage in South Africa with many arguing that government was once again crossing the line and delving into the private realm of parenting and religion. Faith-based organisations, political parties, parent groups, teacher groups and pressure groups alike came out in condemnation of the new sexual content proposed for young school students, with some likening it to “soft-porn” and warning that it has been proven ineffective in addressing the supposed concerns of the South African government. The content, which exposes young school students to arguably inappropriate and explicit sexual content, has already been piloted in five provinces – including the Western Cape – and is likely to be formally introduced in all public schools in 2020.

Hundreds of foreign nationals were sheltered at the Central Methodist Church in Cape Town after violent clashes with police occurred in the Cape Town CBD. Chaos erupted in the Cape Town CBD after the South African Police Service and the City’s Law Enforcement Unit were sent to carry out court orders to end a three-week long foreign national sit-in outside of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) offices in the city.

Hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees took part in the sit-in, demanding either repatriation or sponsored travel to countries such as Australia or Canada. Xenophobia, prejudice, difficulty in obtaining paperwork from home affairs and education were all cited as reasons for their demands. They are currently still living in the church and on the streets surrounding Green Market Square, however humanitarian NGO’s have cautioned that their conditions are a risk to their health and safety.

South African Airways (SAA) management were forced to cancel nearly all domestic, regional and international flights following a shock announcement by the South African Cabin Crew Association and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa that they would embark on ‘the mother of all strikes’. After initially demanding an 8% salary increase, the unions later accepted SAA’s conditional 5.9% increase. The eight day strike reportedly cost the airline R52 million a day in losses.

The December festive season got off to a miserable start for South Africans as Eskom implemented daily blackouts,  despite promises in September that 2019/2020 would see no load shedding at all.  South Africans were left shocked and confused when on Monday 9th December. the power utility shifted from stage 4 to stage 6 in its system of electricity rationing. The SOE’s failures are fuelling South Africa’s economic crisis, with the latest round of blackouts severely affecting small-to-medium businesses at the most critical time of year. Following widespread calls for President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene, he revealed that sabotage was to blame for the recent loss of 2000 megawatts at Eskom. The president and other prominent political figures charged that someone in the power utility disconnected an instrument resulting in the damaging power loss. However, most South Africans and power experts were not convinced and dismissed the claims.

In Cape Town, the year ended with the shocking and brazen murder of infamous gang boss Rashied Staggie, the former leader of the Hard Livings. Staggie, a man known as South Africa’s Al Capone, was shot several times outside his home in Salt River on Friday 13 December. Ordinary Capetonians were on edge in anticipation of an escalation of gang-related violence in the city which is already struggling with violence and criminality. Overall public reaction to the shooting suggested that most were unsympathetic to the murder of Staggie and were strongly opposed to the amount of media attention and coverage his death received.

 


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