The political whirlwind that was 2008

By Tessa Trafford & Craig Wynn

The year 2008 was a roller coaster ride of political back stabbing, intrigue, and drama, as well as the largest economic crisis since the 1930s. Last year boasted the most expensive election campaign in history, the ousting of Thabo Mbeki and new political terms such as ‘Malemaphobia’ and COPE (Congress of the People). Controversy continued over name changes throughout South Africa and a leader was so desperate to cling on to power that he outright denied the disease that is killing his people. These stories are not confined to 2008 and just as certainly as you would suffer a hangover during this festive time known as Rhodes University O-Week, the effects of these stories will be felt in 2009.

The Great Debate

Sleepy Grahamstown has not been without its fair share of controversy over the last few years. Last year there was a proposal to change the name of Grahamstown to iRhini. Colonel Graham was an alleged, racist ‘butcher’ who killed thousands of Xhosa warriors and many have objected to having a town named after him. There was a “Keep Grahamstown Grahamstown” campaign and numerous meetings to reach some conclusion, but to no avail as yet. Some name changes on the campus itself included the Student Union being renamed the ‘Bantu Stephen Biko Building’. 2009 may well see Rhodents caught in history in the making with further change on the horizon.

COPE, ‘Malemaphobia’ and JZ

For those of you who have missed out on our very own real-life soap opera, here’s a summary. We have our president, Thabo Mbeki, removed from office. ANC leader Jacob Zuma is given an official pardon due to flaws in the investigation of his alleged corruption case while Julius Malema, leader of the ANC Youth League, makes several blunders, with calls to ‘kill for Zuma’ and many more causing profound outrage amongst both supporters and the opposition. Half of the ANC members break away and create a new party named COPE (Congress of the People) and so the party wars began.

Bigger and better election campaigns are expected for the elections this year and it seems that the ANC has the strongest chance of winning the elections. However, COPE looks to be popular enough already to weaken the support of the ANC, potentially making South African parliament step out of the ‘one party democracy’ hole that we have fallen into. How does Helen Zille fair in all of this? She may put up an impressive election fight and surprise us all.

Zimbabwe’s Power Struggle

Any other 84 year old man would be happily playing bridge in an old age home and chatting up the old ladies, but not Robert Mugabe. Inflation reached numbers in the range of 231 million percent (give or take a few million) – can you even record such a figure? A quote that grabbed even more attention was his ‘assurance’ that “there is no cholera” (which has happened to kill over a thousand Zimbabweans so far). The accusation that the cholera epidemic, should there indeed be one, is chemical warfare by the UK and USA. 2009 may mean that we finally see that coalition government that has been promised, finally. Yet, still, we cannot be sure.

The Great Recession – and the man we hope can get us out of it

October 2008 saw a massive collapse in the share markets throughout the world, with the USA feeling the initial brunt of the recession. Thousands of jobs were lost in the final months of 2008, in many of the world’s strongest nations. As of late January this year, the term, ‘full recession’ became the official description for the situation. There are signs that we are now looking at a period as bad as the aftermath of 1929’s Wall Street Crash – welcome to the Great Depression, round two.

However, in November we saw Barack Obama elected as the man to take the position of the 44th president of the United States. As well as having to end a war on multiple fronts in the Middle East and begin to combat global climate change, he is trusted of billions to bring an end to the economic crisis. This year, then, will prove to be one of the most remarkable in American presidential and world history. One day your children and grandchildren will ask the inevitable question of “where were you when…?”

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