The curtain is about to come down on 2020, the most incredible year that any of us have ever lived through. This time last year, none of us could even spell Coronavirus, or even pronounce COVID 19.
None of us knew what a lockdown was or that President Cyril Rampahosa could actually close down an entire country for 21 days that ended up being almost six months before the ‘new normal’ actually kicked in. It’s been, for want of another word in a year where we have had so many new ones, unprecedented.
It’s brought the worst in us – and the very best. The year began with a toss-up between the boets getting stuck into each other in a housing estate with boots, bayonets and batons and a bit of boet-on-boet violence at the Benoni golf club when one of them pimped the other for cheating. Down the road in Kimberley, the tender-bhutis flocked for the January 8 statement. The year was just getting started, as the one auntie said to the others: “hold my dog.”
There was Geoff Makhubo, the mayor of Johannesburg walking with Soweto residents protesting about having to pay Eskom for the R18-billion electricity they had already used, but didn’t want to pay for – or have their supply cut off either. It was a remarkable act of opportunism and expediency even by our political standards. His comeuppance later in the year at the Zondo Commission was even more breath taking because of it. Eskom would actually go on to record an interim profit and then in the same breath warn us to brace for a R22-billion loss at the end of the financial year.
By March, the conversation was all pangolins, South African government airlifts for stranded nationals and the first of what would become known as family gatherings; the sonorous tones of Uncle Cyril ruining our Sunday evenings, even more effectively than Derek Watts, to announce new levels of civil restrictions. The twitterverse had a field day; podcast bros likened themselves to Mandela on Robben Island, albeit at home with DStv and enough toilet rolls, rubber gloves and sanitiser to withstand a month of prostrate procedures.
As lockdown got underway, some of Ramaphosa’s ministers decided it wasn’t for them, much like the gym bros and the suburban softies who suddenly wanted to run marathons. His other ministers piled in boots and all; Dr Zweli Mkhize might have been a model of calm and reason, but Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma rapidly morphed into the nanny from hell, turning blue rinsed grannies in the suburbs into addicts hustling for a fix on petrol station forecourts. Her unequivocal ban on cigarettes became the gift that kept giving for the illegal cigarette manufacturers, one of whom is Julius Malema’s landlord. Long afterwards, the Western Cape High Court would rule the ban had been both unnecessary and unconstitutional.
Nobody could touch Bheki Cele when it came to ministerial over-reach. Like a prohibitionist of old, this was his moment. His officers broke up a wedding on a beach, bundling the bride and groom into the van. He even wanted couples to observe social distancing in homes by banning them from kissing in bed. Unfortunately, he couldn’t stop the men beating the hell out of their partners: calls to the Gender Based Violence control centre shot up from 393 between January 1 and March 26 to 3 860 between March 27 and September 21.
Mr Fixit, alias Fearfokol, Fikile Mbalula became Minister Flip Flop, after the taxi association told him where to get off. He didn’t have a very good lockdown either as what was left of the passenger railway infrastructure either got looted, expropriated without compensation or simply land invaded by informal settlements – and then got a snotklap from the MKVA in the process who dubbed him DoFokol for derailing their gravy train. Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim also tested positive for Stalinitis, becoming better known for ridiculous regulations on open toed sandals and crop tops than actually keeping trade and industry ticking over.
Many regulations, as South Africa began the descent from level 5 via level 5- 2.0 eventually to level 1, often appeared illogical like letting people blow their social grants in casinos, stuffing taxis and opening churches, while banning booze and home visits. The economy wheezed, unemployment soared, Tito Mboweni sought solace in his unique culinary skills as everyone ignored him when he warned the money was running out – in fact, they forced him to find money to continue to bail out the national albatross SAA.
But a lot of South Africa actually worked incredibly well – and with each other. Mkhize’s health department was one shining example. The president too, even though he looked more tired and sad every time he uttered his go to phrase “My fellow South Africans”. Mzansi became so used to his chats that when he didn’t speak everyone expected the worst and even when he promised we weren’t returning to higher lockdown, there was a still a run on the booze stores – just in case.
Ramaphosa had his hands full. If it wasn’t people determined to do their own thing, it was wannabe tenderpreneurs in his own office who saw the national need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as their turn to eat and create a second wave of state capture. They weren’t the only ones. To his credit, the man often derided for his indecision and consensus building promptly axed his own spokesperson.
Lower level politicians in the rural areas withheld food parcels for influence as people started to starve – even trying to centralise the efforts of charities who were distributing vital supplies and running food kitchens. But it didn’t stop ordinary, decent South Africans from doing what they could to help the less fortunate. Siya Kolisi was as much a giant among the hungry as he was lifting the William Webb Ellis trophy in Japan last year.
No one though could match Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman who should be declared as our secular saint. A one-man reconstruction and development programme in 2020; his foundation provided food security, drilled wells for water and fixed hospital wards in many places where government incompetence had caused them.
Ramaphosa set up a solidarity fund, encouraging South Africa to contribute as the lockdown began to bite exposing the divide in our society and adding to the legions of those already unemployed. The uber-rich White Monopoly Capitalists answered the Thuma Mina call and shut the mouths of the RET brigade, stumping up a R1-billion each to seed the fund.
It was a difficult lockdown too for the EFF – and the official opposition, the DA – albeit for different reasons. Premised on the politics of spectacle, the EFF found themselves as muted as a petulant child on a Zoom home school lesson, until Clicks got themselves into a tangle over shampoo. From there it was an easy pirouette back into the politics of hate where they were met head on by their paler-hued fellow travellers in Senekal and Brackenfell.
Meanwhile the conspiracy theorists fumed. The government’s bid to roll out an innocuous COVID warning app was heralded as another example of the deep state capture, by the same people who would feed Facebook quizzes with all the information needed to hack their digital identities. The fight against the vaccine found an unlikely champion in the form of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who tried to summon any angels who might have missed the call up from Donald Trump’s spiritual advisor Paula White to save her idol’s presidency.
Mogoeng wasn’t the only part time pastor left red-faced, Mmusi Maimane, the Obama of Soweto, had his moments too. The full-time profit (sic) of religion, Shepherd Bushiri, left the government red faced when he absconded on money-laundering charges and ended up home in Malawi – while Malawi’s president was on a whistle stop state visit to South Africa.
And then suddenly the year was almost over – the NPA even found a set of dentures: some state capture companies have offered to pay back the money while the worst culprits – and a whole cast of bit players – will be in court in 2021. But this year isn’t over. No one’s cracking the champagne just yet though, there’s still plenty of time for fate to say ‘hold my beer’ – or as they say in Joburg; ‘hold my dog’!
Originally published on the 19 December in 2020 in the Saturday Star