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2021: A year that tested South Africa to the limit

A large - scale wildfire destroyed several historical buildings on UCT’s upper campus in April, including the Jagger Reading Room, which formed part of the UCT Libraries’ Special Collections. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency

A large - scale wildfire destroyed several historical buildings on UCT’s upper campus in April, including the Jagger Reading Room, which formed part of the UCT Libraries’ Special Collections. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency

Published Dec 24, 2021

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CAPE TOWN - 2021 has been a year of challenge and triumph for South Africans as the country grappled with the unknowns of new Covid-19 variants and managing its subsequent economic and social effects.

In the first few weeks of the year, the country made strides in acquiring vaccines with then Health Minister, Zweli Mkhize, announcing that South Africa would receive one million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and 500 000 in February.

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The country confirmed more than 1.3 million infections at the time.

But just as South Africa came to grips with the pandemic, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in June confirmed the new Delta variant had become dominant in Gauteng and quickly spread throughout the country.

Delta, causing severe infections and hospitalisations, drove a third wave of Covid-19 infections that peaked at more than 26 000 cases per day by early July.

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During the pandemic and resulting economic slowdown, load shedding was largely suspended due to reduced demand.

This ended in March, when Matimba, Tutuka, Majuba, Kusile, Duvha, Kriel, Kendal and Medupi power stations experienced breakdowns.

In May, stage 2 load shedding was reimplemented.

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By June, level 4 load shedding was announced, and despite a reprieve over the municipal elections in November, the country has had to grapple with a power crisis throughout the year.

Also dominating the headlines this year, former president Jacob Zuma will spend Christmas at home after the courts allowed him to appeal the order to end his parole.

The Gauteng High Court this week granted Zuma, 79, and the Department of Correctional Services leave to appeal the ruling that found that granting medical parole to Zuma in September was unlawful.

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Zuma was sentenced in June to 15 months in prison for contempt of court.

With Zuma's imprisonment, dramatic and violent scenes of unrest and looting unfolded in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng by citizens struggling to survive amid climbing unemployment and desperation. More than 340 people lost their lives, and damages exceeded R50 billion.

A deadly spree of violence and looting flared up in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal during July, leaving thousands of businesses gutted. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency

In the Indian-majority township of Phoenix, KZN, some residents had armed themselves to fight off looters, stoking racial tensions and racially motivated attacks.

Other politicians faced their share of controversy this year, including Mkhize, who resigned as health minister in August.

This after communications company Digital Vibes, a firm headed by Tahera Mather, a friend of Mkhize, and Naadhira Mitha, Mkhize's former personal assistant, were exposed as having received a tender worth R150 million through a closed tender process to provide communications services for government.

This month, the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court dismissed former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini’s application to have her perjury case discharged.

The matter relates to repeated extensions of an unlawful tender awarded to Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) to distribute the department’s social grants.

The Bloemfontein High Court, meanwhile, is set to hear Ace Magashule’s application to have corruption charges against him withdrawn in the new year, in relation to the R255m Free State asbestos audit scandal.

A number of DA members were embroiled in qualifications scandals, including former Western Cape leader Bonginkosi Madikizela, JP Smith, Xanthea Limberg, Marius Koen and Risham Maharaj.

South Africans had the opportunity to show politicians how they felt at the ballot boxes when municipal elections came on November 1.

Despite 26.1 million voters registered, only 12.3 million South Africans voted.

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa visited Green Point informal settlement in Khayelitsha ahead of the local government elections that took place in November. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/ African News Agency

The ANC achieved a majority in 161 municipalities. The DA achieved a majority in 13 municipalities and the IFP achieved a majority in 10. Sixty-six municipalities were hung, leaving the opportunity for coalitions.

Soon again the world would largely be in lockdown, and temporarily isolating South Africa with travel bans, after the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Omicron was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) by South African scientists on November 24 and is believed to be driving the country’s fourth wave of infections.

On Wednesday, the NICD reported 21 099 new Covid-19 cases in a single day, bringing the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases to 3 353 106. There have been 90 587 deaths.

The country bade farewell to a number of well-known figures, many as a result of Covid-19 complications and ill health, including Dorah Sitole, Jackson Mthembu, Sibongile Khumalo, Karima Brown, Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, Sindisiwe van Zyl, Khaya Xaba, Menzi Ngubane, Shaleen Surtie-Richards, Steve Kekana, Jabu Mabuza, Ben Ngubane, Shona Ferguson, Kebby Maphatsoe and FW de Klerk.

While mourning the deaths of thousands, the country saw hope in the form of its athletes, abled and differently abled, who claimed a number of medals at the Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo.

Athletes Tatjana Schoenmaker, Bianca Buitendag, Anruné Weyers, Ntando Mahlangu and Nicolas Pieter du Preez among others received a hero’s welcome home.

Humanitarian organisations including Gift of the Givers and its founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and Ladles of Love meanwhile continued to inspire millions to help their own communities.

The kindness of a neighbour saw a mother and daughter getting their first dose of the potentially lifesaving Covid-19 vaccination side by side in Paarl; a Mitchells Plain resident donated the R5 000 voucher he had received to his old school; a Tokai Good Samaritan raised R20 000 to give a petrol attendant the gift of sight.

There was no shortage of goodwill as companies and corporates, organisations, community policing forums, residents and society at large stepped up to help the increasing numbers of those in need.

Cape Times

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