And that was the Year That Was …

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

The Year That Was  …

By the time we produce our next edition it will be 2019, so here are some reflections on the events that made an impression on us in 2018.

NEWS

What made us go ‘thank you’ …
Time magazine declared ‘The Guardians’ to be its people of the year, and we tend to agree with them. The Guardians, by its definition, were journalists like Jamal Khashoggi, murdered in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Istanbul, and others who were either killed, attacked or threatened for holding power to account. Journalism in South Africa is not in great shape but the country should be deeply grateful to its corps of investigative journalists, without whom state capture would almost certainly still have the country in its hold. They continue to do excellent work in spite of the hostility and threats from the likes of EFF leaders Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu.

What made us go ‘Pinnochio!’ …
Time magazine also declared the War on Truth to be its major story of the year (and one that was allied to its people of the year). Sadly, the international leader of this trend turned out to be US President Donald Trump himself: fact checkers listed daily lies by Trump and this week he was at it again – telling US troops in Afghanistan that they had not had an increase in 10 years (they had, every year) until he came along and got them a 10% pay rise (it went up 2,4% in 2018). Then there were the Russians, furiously manipulating public perceptions around the world via social media campaigns. South Africa has its own purveyors of porkies, with the aforementioned Malema and Shivambu, Jacob Zuma and others being put in the shade by former SABC boss Hlaudi Motsoeneng, a wild fantasist.

What gave us hope there might be a brighter future …
Cyril Ramaphosa has been president of South Africa for a year now and opinion remains divided. His fans point to progress made in rolling back state capture and putting the economy on a sound footing as his greatest achievements. His critics paint him as ineffective and indecisive. We lean towards the former (and it is telling that the critics are mainly opposition politicians or supporters): he inherited a mighty mess from Jacob Zuma and has simultaneously had to maintain ANC party unity and govern. We’d give him a good pass mark. 

What made us shake our heads …
Ramaphosa’s general popularity got the country’s major opposition parties on to the back foot and they did not react well. The DA stumbled about trying to find a coherent message that wasn’t ‘we aren’t Jacob Zuma’ and ended up falling between two stools – the sort of populism that had been working for the EFF and being a serious player. Among its self-inflicted wounds this year was the protracted attempt to get rid of Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, who played the local media (already hostile to the DA) like a fiddle. The EFF, faced with the same dilemma, ended up shooting itself in both feet when the VBS bank saga cast serious questions about its supposed commitment to the poor. Its subsequent attacks on journalists asking difficult questions did it no favours either. Recent polls suggested both parties were losing some support and the ANC was gaining.

What made our minds boggle …
The scale and scope of state capture is increasingly becoming evident thanks to the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into the phenomenon, reporting by journalists and repeated requests by state-owned enterprises to be bailed out (to the tune of billions of rands). The Gupta family have long fled these shores after fleecing the state’s coffers and the best that we can hope for is that local facilitators get to experience life behind bars. Foremost among them would be former president Jacob Zuma but there are a host of others – cabinet ministers, senior government employees and business people – who all played a role in undermining the country to the point that a few more years might well have broken the economy.

What tunneled its way into our hearts …
Twelve members of the Wild Boars youth soccer team and their coach entered the sprawling Tham Luang cave network on June 23, only to be trapped by rising flood waters. Hope was all but lost but the boys were found alive in July. Joy was short-lived when it turned out that the chances of rescuing the boys was a long-shot. People all around the globe watched in awe as cave divers retrieved the boys one-by-one. For a moment we forgot about the world’s woes as we celebrated this fairytale ending (well, everyone except Elon Musk, who was too busy insulting one of the rescue divers who had criticised Musk’s efforts to help rescue the boys as ‘a PR stunt’).

What made us fear for the planet (1) …
There’s very little that Donald Trump can do that surprises us, but what we’ve found his cozying up to America’s enemies and abandoning the country’s friends puzzling. Take Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. Trump has insulted people around the world, but has been careful not to criticise Putin. At the Helsinki summit Trump was asked whether he believed the US’s intelligence services, who have accused Moscow of interfering in the election, or Putin. Trump responded: ‘President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see why it should be. President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial.’  After his summit with Kim Jong-un he said he and the ruthless North Korean dictator ‘fell in love’ and he shrugged off the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul by arguing the Saudis buy lots of US exports. Trump has blasted G7 leaders, insulted the leaders of the European Union and NATO partners and described some African nations  as ‘shithole countries’. Maybe we will found out why he’s weakened his allies while strengthening Russia when Robert Mueller delivers his report. The Special Counsel’s persistent march seems to indicate an impeachment saga may be on the cards in 2019.

What made us fear for the planet (2) …
Donald Trump features in this news story too. Leading the charge against prevailing scientific wisdom was the US president, who pulled the country out of the Paris Climate Accord, saying he was ‘not a believer’ in US government scientists’ 1,600-page assessment of the crisis facing the planet, with 2018 predicted to be the hottest since records were started. The World Meteorological Organisation has warned that, on current trends, warming could reach 3 deg C to 5 deg C by the end of this century. The Paris Accord had set 1.5 deg C as a target. The growing number of violent storms across the world has been blamed on warming oceans. Of course Trump can’t be held responsible for the crisis. Humans are using up resources more quickly and churning out more trash than the planet can handle. The Great Pacific garbage patch is a vortex of plastic that now reportedly covers 1.6 million square kilometres, with up to 100kg of plastic per square kilometre in the centre, and around 10kg/km at its edges. Closer to home, the SA water crisis was blamed on changing climate patterns and Cape Town managed to avoid Day Zero before the rains returned. But the crisis was watched closely around the world by those who believe drought scenarios will become more common.

And the Menace of the Year Award goes to …
There have been so many contenders for the 2018 Menace crown – from the racist ranter who threw the Catzavelos among the Sparrows to the Dros rapist and all the scumbag men who continue to sexually assault girls and women to the criminal thugs who mug, murder and exploit. Then there are the usual suspects: Tom Moyane, who is trying to cling on to his former post at Sars and the disgraced Hlaudi Motsoeneng; confirmed liar Bathabile Dlamini who was responsible for the debacle at Sassa; confirmed liar Malusi Gigaba, who let it all hang out;  AfriForum for spreading White Genocide paranoia; and the DA for the party’s Eskom-like power struggles and mismanaging the Day Zero saga in Cape Town. The EFF’s terrible tweedle-dee and tweedle-dumber twins Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu have made an impressive last-minute dash for the crown for accusations they they benefited from the VBS bank heist to bankroll their expensive lifestyle – they promptly pointed their supporters at journalists and encouraged the EFF faithful to shoot the messengers. The ultimate menace, however, is Jacob Zuma, who has left a devastating legacy of corruption and not only allowed the Guptas to capture the state, he facilitated it.         


BUSINESS

What made us go ‘what the Facebook?’ …
In business, it was the bad guys who made all the headlines. On the international stage Facebook was revealed to be just another corporate vulture. So much for the ‘social’ part of social media – the company that was supposedly founded to give you a platform to share life and interests with your friends, family and colleagues has been capturing everything you share as data to sell to those who can make money or gain power from it. In January Mark Zuckerberg announced that 2018 would be the year to fix Facebook, but a month later the social media giant’s role in manipulating the 2016 US elections came out, along with charges that it it was facilitating hate speech and fake news. Zuckerberg’s apology for giving access to Cambridge Analytica to millions of users’ account information made hardly a dent as it was revealed that the company also shared data with Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Netflix and Spotify – including giving them access to your private messages. Over the year Zuckerberg lost around $23 billion as Facebook’s share value crashed. But he still has around $50-billion in the bank. 

What made us go ‘Jooste desserts’ …
Closer to home, the collapse of the multi-billion dollar global business group Steinhoff, after CEO Markus Jooste disclosed ‘accounting irregularities’, left the company in debt to the tune of R160-billion – probably the biggest corporate scandal in our history. The share price collapsed from R56 to R6 over four days after Jooste made the announcement. In early December it was trading at around R1.60. Former chairperson Christo Wiese is suing for R59bn, while other investors are working on class action lawsuits. PwC is conducting a forensic investigation into the collapse that involves around 3.3 million records, such as emails, that must be analysed. The report is expected by the end of February. 

What made us go ‘ag, no man’ …
In money terms, the theft of R2-billion at VBS bank was far smaller than the billions lost in the Steinhoff meltdown, but South Africans were outraged at the greed of around 50 individuals and entities who stripped the bank to line their pockets. The money that was lost came from small investment societies like stokvels, and from municipalities that had been persuaded to invest funds that were meant to be used for local services. Among those who were named as taking money in Advocate Terry Motau’s report to the Treasury were directors, senior executives and well-connected politicians.
 


SPORT

What gave us grate lashings of schadenfreude …
The sports story of the year must surely have been the ‘Sandpapergate’ scandal, in which the Australian cricket team were famously caught at Newlands scuffing the ball with sandpaper in an effort to get it to swing (and thus make life very difficult for South Africa’s batsmen). The television evidence was overwhelming and team captain Steve Smith, vice captain David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were sent home in disgrace and banned from international cricket. Smith and Bancroft gave tearful press conferences afterwards and will probably be welcomed back into the international fold when their bans end this year. Warner, on the other hand, has repeatedly been involved in controversy over the years and seems unlikely to be chosen to represent his country again. 

What gave us great lashings of pride …
The South African team of the year, surprisingly, was Banyana Banyana – the national women’s football team. They made it through to the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations – where they lost to Nigeria in a penalty shootout – but, more importantly, their performance in that tournament has secured them a World Cup finals spot. Besides their achievements, the players’ zest for their sport and team spirit made them a compelling force. 

What gave us great splashings of pride (2) … 
And individual sports person? Here’s one from left field. Or left dam. SA kayaker Andy Birkett won both the world K1 (single) and K2 (double, with Hank McGregor) marathon world championships – an extraordinary achievement given the competition from around the world. The events were both held in Portugal.


SEE WHAT, SAY WHAT and
TWEET OF THE YEAR …

What made us go WTF?

Can this be true? These two geniuses dressed up as a Zebra among the local wildlife somewhere in Africa. What could possibly go wrong?


CRYPTIC CLUE OF THE DAY

Today’s clue, compiled by Kieron Callaghan and hopefully for Chris Whitfield is no longer true, is: Side of eleven centimetres and…uh…managed badly? (10,6).
 
And from the.news.letter team, ‘Yapp anywhere!’ (5, 3, 4) y’all

The solution to last week’s Christmas clue, Carol – shame-faced tory with less TV work? (3,6,4,2,9), is THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS, an anagram of ‘shame-faced story with less TV’ (‘work’ is the anagram indicator).
 



Dear Reader,

As we announced earlier, we are producing the.news.letter on a weekly basis for four weeks (it’ll be back in its full five-days-a-week glory from January 14).  
We hope you are all having a great holiday,
Chris, Jonathan and Martine

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