Without attempting a comprehensive overview of 2010, I would like to focus on some important events and trends which no doubt will influence the future.
Undoubtedly the most important thing to happen in South Africa in 2010 and certainly in this decade was the FIFA World Cup - to which I will return presently.
On the domestic political front, much of the interest centred on tensions between the alliance partners. These were less ideological than strategic and personal - with COSATU consciously asserting itself. For example, COSATU took a hard line on corruption in government, with Zwelinzima Vavi actually naming certain Cabinet ministers. It also, very much against the ANC’s wishes, called a serious and costly nation-wide strike on the eve of the World Cup. COSATU also ruffled ANC feathers by associating itself with a newly established all-party civil group.
As regards leadership at the top, President Zuma, after a shaky start to the year, asserted himself at the ANC’s General Council meeting. He followed this with a major Cabinet re-shuffle, the purpose of which was not evident to all observers - other than to strengthen his own position. However, to his credit he got rid of some bad apples and sacked some underperformers.
But nowhere has the presidency failed so obviously in the view of most South Africans as in Zimbabwe. Although southern African countries have assigned President Zuma the leading role, he has failed – to the disappointment of most South Africans and the international community – to assert himself in his dealings with Mugabe. Unrelated to this, he has demonstrated a serious lack of understanding of the constitutional importance – both from a national and international point of view - of media freedom and the important rights associated with information in supporting the ANC’s misguided attempt at curbing the media.
On the economic side, given what Chris Hart and other economists say has been a lack of long-term strategic economic goals, the country for most of the year has tended to drift – losing hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process. The government has also seemed financially oblivious to what it is committing the country and taxpayers to. This is not only the cost of grandiose schemes but for essential infrastructure developments - for example, energy generation and roads, housing and social welfare grants, etc. As Business Day at one point commented: “President Zuma and his government must understand that money doesn't grow on trees.”
Meanwhile, President Zuma and his governments' dilly-dallying on threats from within the ANC to nationalise mines is costing the country heavily in terms of lost investment. Omega, in its mining investment activities, can testify to the unsettling impact which this loose talk has on local and international players in the mining sector.
Possibly the most important development on the economic front in 2010 came in the last quarter with Ministry of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel announcing his long-term New Growth Path economic strategy. Very ambitious in its job-creation goals, it has had a mixed reception - mostly critical. However, two strong voices who have cautioned against throwing the plan out with the bath-water are Michael Power of Investec and Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank. As the plan was only announced quite late in the year, these people and others will no doubt feature in the debate which will dominate the first half of 2011.
But unquestionably the most important thing to happen in South Africa and in southern Africa in 2010 was the FIFA World Cup. It was much more than just a sporting event, and as such it was universally seen as an enormous success - notwithstanding all the initial pessimism and loudly-expressed doubts as to whether the country could put together something like this. We did - and the world applauded.
But what demonstrated just how deep Afro-pessimism runs - the built-in prejudice against the country and Africans - was the international media response, and especially the response of the UK media, to a private tragedy - the murder of an Indian bride on the couple's honeymoon visit to South Africa. The initial horror at the gruesome killing was understandable, and especially among South Africans - who sensed its negative international implications. In fact, the reaction was probably strongest in Guguletu, the well-known essentially black suburb of Cape Town, where the deed took place, and where community leaders and businessmen and women especially have been making a determined effort to establish the suburb as an international tourist attraction.
But what was sickening was when the South African police - at top-level and quite brilliantly - very quickly arrested several suspects. Suddenly, much of the respect and goodwill of the World Cup disappeared. And when the South African police alleged that the husband was involved in the killing, UK journalists and publicists in particular went into overdrive - explaining that because South Africa supposedly is a lawless society where this sort of thing happens on a regular basis, South African authorities would do everything – including lying and fabricating evidence – to deflect the murder away from any of its nationals.
The full story has of course not run its course. Guilt has not been proved. But South Africans - and black South Africans in particular – have every reason to be angry and cynical at the way the international media has dealt with this issue.