More pain than joy this year

Themba Molefe

Themba Molefe

It was a year that did not abound with the good, but one fraught with the bad, the ugly and the worst. To the world the good came right at the tail-end of 2008.

The historic election of Barack Hussein Obama as the first black leader of the free world was a show stopper, sending ripples across all continents.

Obama's victory was like a balm on the inflamed souls of many South Africans in particular. It arrived towards the end of a year many would wish gone and forgotten.

It was a 2008 mired in tragedy, governments' ineptitude and little respite from suffering.

Elected on November 4, Obama enters the White House on January 20, as the 44th president of the US.

So elated was Kenya - the birthplace of Obama's father - that the government there declared the day after the announcement of his victory a public holiday.

The ascendancy to power by the Democratic Party senator from Chicago, Illinois, was the inspirational story of the year.

It came as South Africa was still reeling from the horrendous xenophobic violence that broke out in Alexandra on May 16.

The xenophobia explosion punctuated the failure by the government to regulate the influx and settlement of economic and political refugees.

It was shortly before the May 16 eruption that Minister of Home Affairs Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula reiterated the government's "integration, no camps" stance.

A coherent policy on refugees has yet to emerge as the displaced migrants gingerly return to the communities that wanted them out.

Politically, the ANC's eventful Polokwane conference of December 2007 had a domino effect that after Jacob Zuma became party president and Thabo Mbeki fell on his sword a defeated man.

Little did Mbeki envisage, if at all, that the walk to his demise would be brisk though the writing was on the wall for all to see.

Those seen to be his allies were falling by the wayside or being pushed. First it was Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool who jumped before he was made to walk the plank. Then followed his Eastern Cape counterpart Nosimo Balindlela, who was fired.

Then there was hope that Mbeki would regain his glory after he managed to get foes Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai to shake hands in what was expected to be a lasting power-sharing deal in strife-torn Zimbabwe.

Though Mbeki is still retained as a mediator by the Southern Africa Development Community, Zimbabwe is bleeding and its people die of hunger and disease.

In September, the ANC's national executive committee "recalled" Mbeki from his position as South Africa's president. This effectively meant that he was fired because he was a "lame duck".

This came after the September 12 Judge Chris Nicholson ruling widely, but incorrectly, interpreted by the Zuma camp as meaning that the ANC leader had been acquitted of corruption and racketeering charges.

Nicholson accused Mbeki and his cabinet of political interference in the Zuma saga.

Buoyed by this ruling the ANC recalled Mbeki. This sparked a mass exodus, first with the resignations by senior cabinet and ANC members seen to be Mbeki allies, prominent among them Mosiuoa Lekota, then defence minister, and Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa

But still to be tested - in court - is Zuma's "if I'm to be prosecuted I will not go down alone" expression.

Meanwhile, ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe became president of the country, at least until the election next year, as Zuma moves to top gear, hoping to become South Africa's next head of state.

This despite his running battles with the National Prosecuting Authority which might extend beyond the next poll.

And then entered the Congress of the People (Cope) whose founders Lekota and Shilowa led a breakaway from the ANC. Cope hopes to upset the political applecart in next year's election. Following a staccato start, Cope was finally launched in Bloemfontein on December 16, the Free State city where the ANC was formed in January 1912.

Cope says the current ANC leadership has reneged on its founding principles as embodied in the Freedom Charter.

The Independent Electoral Commission has yet to announce next year's election date.

The split in the ANC has seen words flow fast and furiously, even from an unlikely sources ...

"Now that the dogs are leaving, there will be peace and we will be stronger," said ANC Women's League president Angie Motshekga, referring to dissidents such as Lekota and Mluleki George.

"A matric certificate is not really important as long as one served the ANC ..." Motshekga again.

And the most reported, condemned, defended, analysed ... statement in 2008?

"We shall kill for Zuma." - ANC Youth League president.