We don’t hate the rhino. We don’t love it that much either. We only really care for it because we want it to be protected because, let’s face it, the animal species is on its very last legs. We might see it wiped off the face of the planet in our lifetime, bar a few zoos. This might be our very own panda, which is still on the brink of extinction. We are all concerned about this not-so-cute animal which some like to call the African unicorn.

It is not out of insensitivity that many of us rejected the idea that this animal be made the Newsmaker of the Year. The choice of the rhino seemed more like an activist decision than a decision based on the merits of what a Newsmaker of the Year is.

Perhaps this is what Jacob Zuma was speaking about when he said caring for animals more than one cares about people is unAfrican. Although the rhino is very African.

In the same year we saw 34 miners shot and killed by the police when they were making demands for better pay.

It seems to me it was a case of over-zealous activism on the part of the panel. There is a time and place for activism, but this wasn’t it.

Marikana raised a lot of national issues which were otherwise forgotten. One of the issues was the fact that miners who perform the same duties in Australia get paid significantly more than South African mineworkers.

Marikana raised the issue of work reserved for the forgotten, uneducated black man. It raised the conditions in which these mineworkers lived.

There was also a debate on the police action, why they had live ammunition, why there were no water cannon.

There was also the issue of police being accused of planting or eliminating evidence to protect themselves. We must also not forget the question of why South African strikes turn violent. In other words, key national questions were raised.

There were also the trade union wars which helped spark the protests. Suddenly it came to light that the National Union of Mineworkers, which has had a strong grip on the mines, had a challenger, and this new small, nimble challenger was more militant and more aggressive in its demands than the established NUM. The workers felt that they were now being listened to for the first time.

The Marikana tragedy also raised the issue of the massive gap between executives and labourers. So much so that even President Zuma suggested that executives should curb their pay (ironically, he had accepted a pay hike just a few weeks before).

The number of stories which spiralled out of that deadly day alone are enough to make the mineworkers the newsmakers. Their strike action has resulted in low minimum wage workers demanding a generous increase from their bosses. We have seen this in the recent farmworkers’ strikes in the Western Cape, too.

More people died that day than during the Bisho massacre. One could write an entire thesis around Marikana. The panel should have got its priorities right.

They have every right to be activist, but they also have an obligation to be objective and not blinded by activism.

* Khaya Dlanga is a social commentator and author of In My Arrogant Opinion.

Cape Times