Mbeki's year of surfing dangerously

The Chinese have the Year of the Dragon and the Year of the Rat: what name should we give the 12 months that have just slipped by?

Having re-read a year's worth of newspaper stories, should we call 2004 the Year of Hubris? After all, a number of people - from Jonathan Moyo, the Zimbabwean government's spin doctor, to Marthinus van Schalkwyk, erstwhile leader of the former New National Party - got their come-uppance.

The Year of Elections? The Americans had their big one - and so did we. How about The Year of deputy president Jacob Zuma? He featured, off and on stage, in:

The January findings of the Hefer commission.

The spat between public protector Laurence Mushwana and Bulelani Ngcuka, former national director of public prosecutions, and Penuel Maduna, former justice minister.

In the end we should probably call 2004 The Year of Thabo Mbeki

The court case of the year - the Schabir Shaik trial.

In the end we should probably call 2004 The Year of Thabo Mbeki because however one views the year - through the Shaik trial even the recent blood transfusion imbroglio - you will stumble across the pipe-smoking president, even if only in the background or in spirit.

For some people the year started with a series of bad days in the office. Mbeki, for example, started 2004 with a visit to Haiti to attend the island's bicentennial independence celebrations but some of the president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's opponents fired at South African security personnel and Mbeki soon returned home.

Before long Aristide was also on his way to Africa. He's settled in Pretoria where he occupies a pleasant office at Unisa and teaches theology or How To Be a President.

Norman Mashabane, former South African ambassador to Indonesia, also had a few bad days. He was accused of sexual harassment by colleagues but, with a little help from foreign affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma - said to be Mbeki's hand-picked successor - did an Aristide and went somewhere else.

The rand started becoming a winner

A civil suit against him is pending.

Talking of matters sexual, Judge Siraj Desai, a Cape high court judge, became entangled with a woman called Salome Isaacs while at a conference in India. The judge said he had unsheathed - or rather sheathed - his salome "consensually".

Isaacs, who allegedly kept the offending sheath as evidence, said her permission for sensuality had not been given. Charges were later dropped.

Bulelani Ngcuka, the former head honcho of the Scorpions, was let off the hook by the final report of the Hefer Commission. Judge Joos Hefer found that Mac Maharaj, a former transport minister, and Mo Shaik, a former diplomat and ANC spymaster, did not manage to prove that Ngcuka had been an agent of the apartheid government.

In any case, Ngcuka resigned as national director of public prosecutions later in the year.

Cricketer Jacques Kallis had a better day than most. He reached his fourth century against the West Indies. Though that was back in January, when our national team still knew how to play cricket.

February introduced a match made in hell. Bernd Brandes, a mild-mannered German, wanted to be eaten - and to sample a titbit of himself - and Armin Meiwes fancied a little cannibalism. So they made dinner arrangements over the Internet and Meiwes cut a significant piece off Brandes and cooked it for both of them.

Then, having dismembered Brandes and refrigerated his parts, Meiwes dined off him for seven months.

Archbishop Dennis Hurley, an unremitting opponent of apartheid, died and in February, in Zimbabwe, the news media stopped breathing when a High Court judgment put them under the control of Moyo. But in recent weeks Moyo himeself fell on hard times himself when Robert Mugabe ejected him from the inner circle of the ruling clique.

In February Jake White replaced Rudolf Straeuli as Springbok coach. It was not long before our rugby players were again dancing the bakgat boogie. The Boks won the Tri-Nations and recorded six wins in eight Tests.

March began with good news. Charlize Theron, a former Benoni lass, collected a Golden Globe award and an Oscar for her portrayal of a serial killer in the movie Monster.

But then Dullah Omar, transport minister and struggle stalwart, said to have been a person of honour and decency, died in March and was mourned by many.

Also in March, a group of English and South African dogs of war ran into trouble in Zimbabwe, apparently while on their way to Equatorial Guinea to launch a small putsch.

The matter would end in jail sentences for some of them, in one or other of the countries, and Mark Thatcher, British former prime minister Margaret's son, living in Cape Town, was later charged by the Scorpions with allegedly being one of the financiers.

Campaigning for the April general election started in earnest. Mbeki confounded Mbeki-watchers by going on the campaign trail with zest. He moved around the country pressing flesh and promising houses where only shanties stood.

Mbeki also noted that if his sister was in love with Kenneth Meshoe, leader of the African Christian Democratic Party, he would beat her. This was apparently a joke.

No one seemed to doubt who would win the election on April 14, not even Tony Leon, the Democratic Alliance's arm-swinging leader. But no one seemed to have expected the ANC to get so much support. It won about 70 percent of the vote, receiving more than 10-million votes. The DA won 12.3 percent (1.9 million votes) and the Inkatha Freedom Party seven percent (about a million).

Former security policeman Gideon Nieuwoudt appeared in court for allegedly not having told the truth commission the truth about why he had blown up some of his colleagues.

He had said it was because they were ANC agents. Former Vlaakplaas commander Eugene de Kock said it was because the murdered men had threatened to expose police corruption. The truth commissioners are still considering the matter.

At the end of April the country celebrated 10 years of democracy. Everyone - most people, anyway - agreed it had been a glorious decade but we had to say farewell to Frene Ginwala, the not-always-impartial Speaker of parliament, which was sad. The election also marked the end of the reign, in various forms, of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

In May South Africa won the right to host the 2010 soccer World Cup and the country reacted with more joy than it had shown about the decade of democracy. But we are a sport-loving nation.

Also in May, the new minister of arts and culture,Pallo Jordan, announced that the country badly needed new literature in Venda and Tsonga and that he intended to ensure this happened. We have not yet heard how the project is progressing.

Mor in May, Ngcuka and Penuel Maduna, former justice minister, were gravely offended when Mushwana found that Zuma's constitutional right to dignity had been violated by their announcement the previous year that prima facie evidence of corruption existed against the deputy president but he would not be prosecuted.

In June, Eugene Terre'Blanche, leader of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging, emerged from prison after 42 months in jail for assaulting a defenceless person. No one seemed to care.

Former Sowetan editor Aggrey Klaaste, an example of a truly committed South African, moved on to the great newsroom in the sky while in July Marlon Brando, the Godfather, trundled off to the big Universal studio.

The rand started becoming a winner, clawing its way back to being a meaningful currency, although this did not please exporters and the killjoys said people should not simply spend, spend, spend. It was a good thing they gave this advice in July and not at Christmas.

University student Leigh Matthews was kidnapped and murdered - transfixing the nation for weeks. Details of parliament's travel scam emerged. Some travel agency executives and MPs were accused of defrauding parliament of some R13-million. And the American election campaign moved into second gear.

Then came August 7, when the NNP declared itself defunct. Nobody seemed to notice. People seemed more interested in the release of Charmaine "Bonnie" Phillips. Twenty years previously, she and "Clyde" (her friend, Pieter Grundlingh) killed four men. Grundlingh was hanged.

Also in August the Olympic flame was lit in Greece - and a good time was had by all except the alleged drug takers, thus confounding the prophets of gloom.

Beyers "Oom Bey" Naude, an Afrikaner cleric who said no to apartheid a long time before most people did, died in September, as did Ray Alexander Simons, a leading communist and trade unionist.

Also in September, the president discovered he was as talented on the keyboard as on the election trail - and, in his weekly column on the ANC's website, started a series of attacks against those who annoyed him.

Tony Trahar, mild-mannered chief of Anglo American, was the first victim. Trahar had mentioned in passing that there might still be some "risk" in South Africa for investors. In October Mbeki, on a roll, denounced critics of crime statistics as racists.

That same month, the Shaik trial began. The Durban businessman and financial adviser to Zuma is on trial for fraud and corruption, some charges relating to the infamous multibillion-rand arms deal. But it is Zuma, as everyone knows, who is really on trial (remember that prima facie evidence?).

The trial started with some juicy evidence but then became a matter of following the money, which is not always as exciting as following the secretaries. It will not be over until the thin man, presiding judge Hilary Squires, sings - some time next year.

As if the Shaik spectacle were not sufficiently troubling, in November George Bush, the man all righteous people love to hate, had his Rambo licence renewed by the people of the United States.

Also in November, Nick du Toit, one of the dogs of war allegedly funded by Thatcher and others, received a 34-year jail sentence.

To round off his year with a bang, Mbeki accused Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, the former chairman of the Truth commission, of having scant respect for the truth. Instead of turning the other cheek, the archbishop's sin was having had the cheek to make some mild criticisms of Mbeki's government.

There was also blood on the floor when it was revealed the national blood transfusion service screened donations according to skin colour and that it had once incinerated Mbeki's blood.

So that was the Year of Mbeki. Perhaps the best comment of the year - and on the year - was inadvertently offered by Rian Malan, author of My Traitor's Heart and a writer admired by the president.

Talking about himself (his speciality), Malan told an interviewer: "I'm waiting for certain events to take place. I'm waiting for the meaning of my life to be revealed. I've lost the plot. Seriously."

2004.12.19 南アフリカの新聞から