State of foul play: The political rollercoaster that was 2018
It's been a year of upheaval and shocking revelations, but for better or worse it was certainly a period of change
SA entered 2018 with a new chief in town, and it soon became clear that then president Jacob Zuma’s days in the Union Buildings were numbered. But in politics, a day is like 1,000 years.
As early as January there were murmurings of a strong push within Cyril Ramaphosa’s camp to remove Zuma, who was indeed eventually nudged out. But by December Zuma appeared set to make a return to politics, with ANC members nominating him on the list of those who will be heading to parliament after the elections in 2019. Although the cynics would say he would never give up his presidential benefits for an MP’s salary.
In January the writing was already on the wall at the ANC’s annual celebrations in East London, where Ramaphosa and Zuma made a feeble attempt to show a united front.
On January 19 the ANC national executive committee assigned officials to start negotiating Zuma’s exit.
And as a deal was being sought with a defiant Zuma, Ramaphosa had already taken charge, making changes to the Eskom board in January while Zuma was still in office – making businessperson Jabu Mabuza the new board chairman.
At that time Zuma was preparing to deliver his State of the Nation address at the beginning of February. However, national assembly speaker Baleka Mbete postponed the matter since a decision had been taken within the ANC that Ramaphosa should deliver the address.
But discussions with Zuma were difficult as he pleaded to stay for at least six months.
On February 13, the ANC national executive committee decided to recall Zuma, in a meeting where even some of his allies supported the decision.
However, Zuma remained stubborn, even giving an interview with the SABC on Valentine’s Day, saying he would not resign. When it was clear his party was going to pass a motion of no confidence in his leadership in the National Assembly, Zuma tendered his resignation on February 14. Ramaphosa delivered the State of the Nation two days later, in which he promised to clean up Zuma’s mess and restore public confidence in government and woo investors.
Two weeks later, Ramaphosa started the mop-up process by making changes to his cabinet. Several Zuma allies got the chop, including Mosebenzi Zwane, David Mahlobo, Faith Muthambi and Bongani Bongo. Nhlanhla Nene was reappointed as finance minister, while his predecessor was moved to back to home affairs. The two later left government after their skeletons popped out of the closet. Nene resigned in October when it was discovered that he had lied during an interview with eNCA about having met the Guptas. Gigaba was pushed to fall on his sword in November after the public protector and the courts found he had lied under oath when he claimed he had not approved the application of the Oppenheimer-owned Fireblade Aviation to run a VVIP terminal at OR Tambo International Airport.
The clean-up process continued with the removal of Supra Mahumapelo as the North West premier in May following violent protests as some communities demand that he vacate office. He was later stripped of his position as chairperson of North West when his provincial executive committee was disbanded.
This angered Zuma’s supporters who accused Ramaphosa of purging Zuma backers. In September, Zuma, Mahumapelo and ANC secretary general Ace Magashule held a secret meeting at the Durban’s Maharani hotel where a plan to dislodge Ramaphosa was allegedly discussed. The plan included challenging the disbandment of North West in court and to nullify the Nasrec outcomes, and making sure Zuma’s allies occupy the top spots on the list to parliament. The courts have since rejected some of their applications.
There were leadership changes in KwaZulu-Natal where some of Zuma's close allies – including premier Willies Mchunu and Super Zuma – lost key ANC posts.
In Gauteng, an elective conference pitted close allies against each other with David Makhura emerging as chairperson, while economic development MEC Lebogang Maile was defeated by education MEC Panyaza Lesufi for the deputy chairperson post.
The opposition had its fair share of drama.
While DA leader Mmusi Maimane was re-elected party leader unopposed, he had to deal with the controversy surrounding former Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille. For months DA bigwigs pushed for De Lille to resign following allegations of impropriety related to a payment to a service provider. However, De Lille stood her ground, claiming she had done nothing wrong. She eventually resigned in October and later formed her own political party, the Good Party.
The Economic Freedom Fighters had to fight off allegations that the party and its leaders benefited from the looting of the Venda-based VBS Mutual Bank. Reports revealed that Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu may have benefited from the looting through their relatives.
They were not alone. From The Great Bank Heist report by advocate Terry Motau, we learnt how 53 individuals, companies and politically connected individuals looted about R1.5bn from the VBS Mutual Bank – funds deposited by poor people and 14 rural municipalities. Hundreds of people waited for hours in queues to withdraw what money they had invested, while affected municipalities are still scrambling to recover what they lost.
For better or worse, 2018 was certainly a period of change: A new man taking up residence in Mahlamba Ndlopfu; the wholesale restructuring at the top tiers of embattled state-owned entities; fresh appointments at the helms of critical institutions; and a renewed sense of determination (this time with the muscle of a few commissions) to act against malfeasance.
The fight for justice also received some much-needed ammunition, with the highly anticipated commencement of two commissions of inquiry into state capture, as well as tax administration and governance, at the South African Revenue Service.
At these commissions South Africans heard horror stories of how significant units at the revenue collector were stripped to the bone, and how politicians and state officials did the bidding of the Gupta family.
Untangling the mess of state capture also required a mass mop-up of state-owned entities including Denel, Eskom and Transnet – all of which received new board members this year. Tom Moyane was booted from the helm of Sars and the subdued National Prosecuting Authority was given a new lease of life with the appointment of a new national director of public prosecutions, Shamila Batohi.
While the government embarked on its clean-up campaign, parliament was seized with the issue of amending Section 25 of the Constitution to allow more explicitly for land expropriation without compensation. In June, parliament’s constitutional review committee began a nationwide consultation process where ordinary citizens added their voices to the debate.
The committee recommended a constitutional amendment and earlier this month the National Assembly voted in its favour, bringing SA one step closer to the first change to its Bill of Rights.
More controversy followed politicians, including ministers Gwede Mantashe and Nomvula Mokonyane, in the form of security upgrades to their homes by the scandal-ridden prison contractor, Bosasa. Ramaphosa was also found to be a beneficiary with R500,000 donated to his presidential campaign by the company. South Africans also mourned the loss of apartheid struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who died on April 2 with thousands of mourners, local and foreign, attending her funeral two weeks later.
The rollercoaster that was 2018 has drawn to a close, making way for what’s expected to be a whirlwind in 2019 when South Africans go to the polls for what could arguably be the most significant elections since the dawn of democracy.