The hottest topics of the year that was
2018 saw the death of a stalwart, the removal of a sitting president, and a technical recession — but that’s not even half of it
Following weeks of speculation after Cyril Ramaphosa clinched the position of ANC leader in December last year, Jacob Zuma announced his resignation as president of the country on February 14.
After Cyril Ramaphosa took Zuma’s place as head of the country, most believed he would immediately rescue an ailing economy and currency, clean-up all corruption, and restore SA to its pre-Zuma glory. As the year progressed, some of that initial euphoria wore off. However, some analysts believe that while we are still on the road to recovery, the journey could take longer than expected.
SA slipped into a technical recession during the first half of the year for the first time since the global financial crisis. This dented the initial positive market sentiment and surge of confidence following Ramaphosa’s election. With negative GDP growth of 2.6% and 0.4% in the first and second quarters, respectively, SA eventually exited the recession with 2.2% growth in the third quarter.
A damning report by advocate Terry Motau and Werksmans Attorneys, released in October, detailed looting at VBS Mutual Bank of nearly R2bn and identified the role of political players from the ANC and the EFF. A huge part of the fraud included municipalities in some of the poorest areas of the country depositing money with VBS, in contravention of regulations that prevent them from putting money into mutual banks.
The inquiry into state capture, chaired by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, has laid bare the extent of the Guptas’ influence in and over the country. While they have appeared to escape justice by fleeing to Dubai, the first scalp inadvertently claimed by the inquiry was that of Nhlanhla Nene, who resigned as finance minister after he admitted to meeting the Guptas, despite previously saying he had only “bumped into them at public gatherings”.
Ramaphosa axed Tom Moyane as the Sars commissioner in November following recommendations in an interim report by Sars commission of inquiry chair, retired judge Robert Nugent. Nugent outlined far-reaching “failures of integrity and governance” at Sars in a detailed, 200-page final report that covered everything from VAT refunds to the Guptas, to Moyane’s bid to take personal control of taxpayer settlements.
The embattled power utility began load-shedding at the tail end of the year. Business Day previously reported that Eskom would ask the government to take R100bn of its debt onto its own balance sheet, though public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan said there was nothing definite with regards to that figure. Currently, Eskom operates thanks to a R350bn debt guarantee by the government, which has been flagged as the biggest risk to the fiscus.
SAA’s most pressing challenge is financial. The airline needs about R17bn in government bail-outs or refinancing from banks, some of it in the next three months if it is to continue operating. A R5bn appropriation in the October medium-term budget was used to repay bridging finance provided by banks earlier in 2018.
The firebrand opposition party has turned its attention to other targets, following Zuma’s resignation. It has been embroiled in the VBS saga and has attacked the reputation of Pravin Gordhan. The South African National Editors Forum is also taking the party and its leader to the Equality Court, to seek protection of journalists against intimidation and threats against journalists by the party’s leaders and supporters.
The official opposition was beset by leadership woes, including losing the mayorship of Nelson Mandela Bay and Patricia De Lille’s resignation as Cape Town mayor, debates around leader Mmusi Maimane’s push for diversity, and his comment about white privilege.
The National Assembly adopted a report recommending the constitution be amended to allow land expropriation without compensation, despite there being fears that the change would deter investment without dealing with the real causes of the slow pace of land reform.
About a year ago, the global retailer admitted to “accounting irregularities”, which led to its share price collapsing. CEO Markus Jooste resigned and, apart from appearing before parliament once, has accounted for little of the alleged corruption that saw one of SA’s biggest companies unravel.
In early April, the woman known as the Mother of the Nation, died in hospital after a long illness. Her death drew global attention, but in its wake, debates began over her controversial legacy.
Authorities initially noted an increase in listeriosis cases in July 2017. More than a year later, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases reported 1,060 laboratory-confirmed cases and identified certain Tiger Brand facilities as the source. By early September, the health department declared the outbreak over, but by then more than 200 people had died. The outbreak lead to a class-action lawsuit and new health and safety regulations.
While the year-end may have seen a significant drop in fuel prices, 2018 will surely be remembered as the year that saw the petrol price reach a record high on more than one occasion.