Ten stories that ruled the roost in 2013

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Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius bows his head as he stands in the dock at the Pretoria Magistrate's Court. File picture: Masi Losi

This year – 2013 – has been momentous for South Africa. It was the year we buried the father of our democracy, watched the star of our famed Paralympian athlete come crashing down and witnessed the bravery of our public protector as she took on the powerful security cluster. Through it all, the stories made us weep, made us laugh and made us proud to be South African. Lee Rondganger traces the year’s top 10 stories.


1 The death of Nelson Mandela consumed South Africans – and much of the world – for 10 days as the country pulled out all the stops, blending the pomp of the military with ancient Xhosa customs in burying South Africa’s greatest son.

Mandela’s death saw an outpouring of grief throughout the world as countries from the US to New Zealand joined South Africa in lowering their flags to half-mast.

President Jacob Zuma announced to the world just after 11pm on Thursday, December 5, that Mandela had died at his Houghton home, surrounded by his family.

Within minutes of the announcement, broadcast internationally, crowds of all hues began flocking to the former president’s home where they prayed, sang and laid flowers in front of the world’s media.

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Nelson Mandela. File photo.


As the country began 10 days of mourning journalists from all over the world descended on South Africa to tell the story of an iconic leader.

A memorial service held at FNB Stadium in Joburg five days after his death, brought world leaders together.

Mandela, as per his wish, was laid to rest in the soil of his ancestral home in Qunu on December 15 at a funeral attended by his closest friends, presidents and royalty.


2 For 86 days this year, the world’s media camped outside the Medi-Clinic Heart hospital in Pretoria where Nelson Mandela had been admitted for a recurring lung infection.

Many believed at the time that the former statesman did not have long to live.

In August, Mandela was discharged and taken home where a team of 22 doctors gave him round-the-clock treatment in his room which “was like an ICU” ward.


3 On February 13, Paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorius had the world at his feet: multimillion rand endorsements, fast cars, international fame – and a beautiful model girlfriend.

On the morning of February 14, Valentine’s Day, he would be fighting to hold on to it all after being arrested for the shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in his Pretoria home.

She had locked herself in the toilet of his home when she was shot at four times.

Pistorius has maintained throughout that he shot Steenkamp through the closed toilet door because he mistook her for a burglar.

He was released on R1 million bail earlier this year following a dramatic bail hearing that saw him breaking down in tears, forcing the magistrate to adjourn the court a few times to allow him to compose himself.

He has been charged with murder and his trial has been set down for March 3.


4 President Jacob Zuma was the centre of scandal after a chartered commercial aircraft landed at Waterkloof Air Force Base on April 30, ferrying more than 200 guests for the wedding of Vega Gupta and Aakash Jahajgarhia.

The Gupta family, who own a newspaper and a TV news station, allegedly used their close links to Zuma to convince senior government officials to land at the airport, a national key point reserved for the military and heads of state.

Chief of state protocol, Bruce Koloane, was fingered with allowing the Guptas to land and was suspended following an inter-departmental government investigation.

The government report found that Koloane pressured military officials into allowing the jet to land at the base under the premise that Zuma was pressuring him.


5 Security upgrades to President Zuma’s Nkandla homestead which has cost taxpayers more than R206 million to date was the centre of a court battle between Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and the security cluster this year.

The security cluster, citing security concerns, wanted Madonsela to exclude certain details from her report based on the findings of her investigation before it went public.

Madonsela had given her report on the upgrade of Zuma’s homestead to the security cluster on November 1. It wanted more than five days to study the document, but Madonsela declined. The cluster filed an urgent application in the Pretoria High Court on November 8 for more time to study the report before it was given to the affected parties. The court postponed the matter to the following Friday but before the case was to be heard the cluster withdrew the application, saying it had already obtained – through the court process – the extra time it needed.

The Mail & Guardian reported that Madonsela had found in her preliminary report that Zuma had misled Parliament, and had benefited substantially from about R20m worth of work that had nothing to do with security features, including a swimming pool. The official report will be released next month.


6 After years of strenuous denials seven times Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong came clean about using steroids to win the prestigious race.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, watched by millions, he admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France seven times.

The titles have since been revoked.

Suspicions about Armstrong’s drug use began to surface in 2005, after former team-mate Frankie Andreu and his wife, Betsy, testified in a lawsuit about a drug confession they heard Armstrong make while he was in hospital in 1996 during his bout with cancer.

Armstrong faced off the accusation but in 2011 the writing was on the wall when Armstrong’s ex-teammates, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, began going public about his doping.


7 The shoddy work of controversial Durban businessman, Jay Singh, came under scrutiny this year when three workers died in the partial collapse of the Tongaat mall on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast. The shopping centre was being developed by a company linked to him.

Zakhithi Nxumalo and Zwelibanzi Masuku were crushed to death and 29 others were injured. A third, decomposing body was retrieved from the rubble.

The eThekwini Municipality, which issued several notices instructing the mall’s developer, Rectangle Property Investments, to halt construction in the months leading up to the incident, had been taking steps to file a contempt of court order against the company.

The future of the site lies in the court’s hand whose decision it will be to allow construction to go ahead or accede to council pleas for it to be demolished.


8 It was described as the miracle under the sea. A Nigerian ship cook who spent almost three days in an air bubble 30m under the sea was rescued by a team of divers from South Africa.

Ten oil workers on board the ship died.

The doomed crewmen were in a Chevron-chartered Jascon 4 tugboat that capsized 30km off Escaros in the oil-rich Nigerian Delta state on May 26 due to heavy Atlantic Ocean swells.

They had been helping to stabilise an oil tanker filling up at a Chevron platform. One crew member has not yet been found. Deep-sea divers André Erasmus 42, of Durban, Nico van Heerden, 32, and Darryl Oosthuizen, 47, both of Cape Town, who were repairing offshore oil rigs 90m under the sea on the west African coast, responded to a mayday call and rushed to the ship’s watery grave.

What was meant to be a body recovery operation turned into a rescue when a hand grabbed one of the divers as he swam past.


9 Twenty-four people were killed this year when an out-of-control truck whose brakes failed ploughed into four minibus taxis and two cars at an intersection at the bottom of Field’s Hill on the M13 in Pinetown.

The September 5 tragedy caused a national outcry and highlighted the perils on South African roads.

Residents and nearby businesses had for years campaigned to have heavy trucks banned from the route.

A Swazi truck driver, Sanele Goodness May, was arrested and has been charged with 24 counts of murder. His trial is expected to start next year.

The current embargo on vehicles heavier than 25 tons between 6.30am and 8am had been changed to include vehicles heavier than 16 tons. The start had also changed to 6am, with an additional embargo in the afternoon, between 4pm and 6.30pm in both directions.


10 The long arm of the law finally caught up with Czech fugitive Radovan Krejcir when the Germiston Regional Court turned down his bail application on charges of kidnapping, assault and attempted murder.

The Czech businessman has grabbed headlines this year after he survived a James Bond-style assassination attempt when remote-controlled shotguns opened fire on him from behind a number plate of a parked car outside his business premises in Joburg.

Krejcir has been linked to a spate of underworld killings since 2009 and is a fugitive from justice in his homeland, having been found guilty of fraud and money laundering and sentenced in absentia to 11 years in jail.

In recent weeks he has been in the spotlight after several of his associates were killed in separate incidents in Bedfordview in what many have labelled an all-out war raging in the Joburg underworld.

Krejcir escaped from custody in the Czech Republic in 2005 and fled via Poland, Ukraine, Turkey and Dubai to the Seychelles.

There he acquired citizenship in 2006 and relinquished his Czech citizenship.

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