2008 broke new ground

Anna Majavu

Anna Majavu

The year 2008 will be remembered for its sweeping political changes.

President Thabo Mbeki fell from grace, a new political party burst on to the scene and a black president, Barack Obama, was elected in the US.

The year started with a bang as the Scorpions refused to drop charges against National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi but the disbanding of the Scorpions cast doubts on whether the investigation would be taken forward.

White on black racism was highlighted when Johann Nel, 18, gunned down some residents of the Skierlik informal settlement in Swartruggens, North West.

The University of the Free State's Reitz residence was shut down after a video - made by white students - and showing black workers eating food mixed with the students' urine was released.

In April the SA Human Rights Commission instructed the Forum for Black Journalists to open its doors to all races and two months later the SAHRC declined to take action against ANC youth league leader Julius Malema for saying he would "kill for [ANC president Jacob] Zuma" .

In July the ANC's national executive committee axed Western and Eastern Cape premiers, Mbeki loyalists Ebrahim Rasool and Nosimo Balindlela and a month later Pietermaritzburg high court judge Chris Nicholson threw out charges of corruption, racketeering and money-laundering against Zuma .

Nicholson's inferences that president Thabo Mbeki was guilty of political meddling set the stage for the ANC to ask Mbeki to step down as president.

Mbeki's resignation sparked the resignation of 13 cabinet ministers. Some were reappointed by caretaker president, Kgalema Motlanthe but former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota quickly served divorce papers on the ANC and moved to hold a convention to form a new party. Former deputy defence minister Mluleki George, former SACP leader Philip Dexter and Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa jumped ship to join him.

Between October and December a steady stream of councillors, MPs and influential businessmen joined the Congress of the People , which was launched in Bloemfontein on December 16.

Meanwhile, Judge Nicholson reignited debate around the 1999 arms deal when he described it as a "cancer in the body politic" that could be eradicated only by an independent commission of inquiry. This led Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former president FW de Klerk to demand that Motlanthe appoint a commission of inquiry into the arms deal.

Motlanthe himself ended the year amid a barrage of criticism, both for ignoring Tutu and De Klerk's call and also for axing suspended NPA head Vusi Pikoli - even after a commission of inquiry had found Pikoli fit and proper to hold public office.

The power-sharing agreement Mbeki had brokered between Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change also fell apart.

But the lowest point of the yearwas the xenophobic murders and rapes that took place in May and the subsequent displacement of 17000 foreign nationals.

Highlights included transport union Satawu and church groups blocking a Chinese ship loaded with weapons for Zanu-PF from docking in Durban's harbour.

In the wake of the deaths of 160 mineworkers this year, parliament passed a bill promising fines of up to R1million for negligent mine companies while Woolworths workers won the right to unionise for the first time ever.